Marriage: Parenting:
Bonding As A Couple - Sharing Feelings Laughing & Loving with Dad
Sharing Dreams / Making Them Come True Balancing Act - Getting Control of Time
When We Disagree Advent Waiting 1 (Waiting with Mary...)
How Do I Know Thee? Advent Waiting 2 (Family activities)
Communication Check-Up Life & Death (Halloween, Fall, letting go)
Couple Fun Forgive and Forget
I Feel Loved When… We’re All in This Together (Ecology)
Gossip - To Tell the Truth (for parents also) A Piece of the Pie - What’s fair?
Values & Spirituality The Golden Rule Revised (for couples also)
Humor Your Spouse Bless Your Child Today
The Pinch (Dealing with annoying habits) Summer Job Jar
If I've Told You Once, I've Told You 1000 Times My Grandma's Grandma (Exploring our ethnic roots)
How Well Can You Read Your Spouse's Moods? The Mystery of Growth (Spring planting)
Do You Make Good Travel Companions? Trophies for Tightwads (consumerism)
Are We Walking with the Same Moral Compass? Walking in Another's Shoes
Is Your Marriage Financially Sound? Martin Luther King and Kwanzaa
Couple Fun: Play Time or Wasted Time? Couch Potato Critics
Dispense One-A-Day Verbal Vitamins Church At Home
A Different Kind of Lent (for everyone) A World of Faith
52 Weeks of Creative Dates Becoming A Global Family
Technology Tips & Traps for Couples Rules for Complaining (for everyone)
Are you Soul Mates or Divided Spirits? The Honesty Policy
How Well Do You Know Your Spouse's Past? New Year's Peace (and Quiet?)
3 Things Exercise Living With Less - But Enjoying It More
Couple's Scavenger Hunt Dealing With Fears
Stress-Less Christmas Technology Tips for Families
Do You Operate in Different Marital Time Zones? Can You Eat on $4.50/Day?
When Your Honey Is Far Away Does Your Child Have NDD?
Are We Intellectually Compatible? Is Your Child Bored?
Sexual Compatibility Is Not Just About Sex Guess the Homily
Donating With Confidence Donating for Kids
Assumptions About Mary & Marriage Erasing Racism
Marriage & Masks Holiday Guilt
Marriage Movies When Your Child Is Far Away
Tracking An Argument Thanksgiving Ritual
Communication Nuggets 12 Days of Christmas
Turn Around the Golden Rule Cells Phones And Kids
Be A Marriage Scientist Life/Work Balance
When Politics Divides Keeping Faith (& Harmony) with our Young Adults
The Lighter Side of Couple Communication Recognizing Fake News & Propaganda
Praying As A Couple Letting Go Of Memorabilia (for anyone)
How Well Do You Know Your Spouse? Taming Time (for anyone)
The Gift of Extra Time - Cancellations (for anyone) Foot Washing (Holy Thursday)
Rooted In Love videos Advent/Christmas Family Reminders
Talking About Divisive Issues (for anyone) New Ideas for a New Year


For Families

Make any New Year’s Resolutions? Have you broken any of them yet? Regardless, here’s chance to try something new to refresh, educate, and/or deepen your family life.
1. Challenge your family to learn about a new country – ideally one you’ve never been to and know little about.
*For a list of countries and background for teens/adults click here. (https://www.factmonster.com/world/countries )
*For a similar list for kids click here (https://www.kids-world-travel-guide.com/countries-of-the-world.html
How does the size, language, wealth/poverty, compare to your own country? How long would it take you to travel to this country. What is unique or important about the country? Would you want to live there?
2. If you could have any job in the world, what would you like to do?
If you already have a job, are you happy with it? What do you like most and least about your current job? Even if you already have a job, are there other jobs that you might be interested in? If you were qualified and could have any job in the world, what would it be?
3. Challenge your family to become familiar with a faith tradition other than one you practice now or grew up with.
Perhaps you are very satisfied with the faith tradition you currently practice; or perhaps you consider yourself a “NONE” (spiritual but not religious). Still, learning the basics of at least one other faith tradition can be an enlightening, enriching endeavor. Choose one of the primary world religions, (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Taoism, Confucianism, Caodism, Baha’i Bahá'í, …) or another faith that sounds interesting to your family and learn about it. For a summary of the major world religions, click.here. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/largest-religions-in-the-world.html You could also research Secular, Agnostic, or Atheist systems. How is the religion you research similar or different from your own beliefs? Is there anything you particularly like about it?
4. Consider a new family tradition. -Zoom call, dinner tog., HangOut)
When our children were all at home (and before the teen years usurped much of their evening home time) we had the custom of a once a week Family Night. After dinner we gathered for about an hour to focus on a fun family activity, social justice action, and/or a creative home prayer. As they “graduated” out of Family Night and moved away from home, this has morphed into a weekly meal with our in-town son, a weekly Zoom call with our Singapore son and his wife, and a monthly Zoom call with the whole family where we rotate members choosing the Question of the Month.

For Anyone

This one will be short because you may be pretty busy.
Each year as Christmas approaches most people in developed, relatively peaceful countries, turn their minds toward gift giving. To help your family learn how to wait and prepare their hearts (not just their gift lists) I'm reprising some ideas that I've gathered over the years to help families remember how to approach this crazy?? season with holy sanity. To visit my ADVENT/CHRISTMAS REMINDERS blog click here. It contains a short list of ideas and then links to numerous other creative ideas for the Advent/Christmas season.


For Anyone

These days it often feels like we are suffering from political, religious, and family discord. People disagree about what is the right thing to do and whose opinion is correct. We may retreat into our “tribes” or “bubbles” where folks agree with me. It may feel safer and more comfortable but in a pluralistic society it doesn’t help us live well with our “enemies.” Consider these 7 steps for talking about controversial issues in your marriage or with anyone.

1. PREPARE TO LISTEN: Before you even start a difficult conversation:
• Know your own stuff. Research the facts so you are not operating on misinformation.
• Be aware of your own biases.
• Think kindly of the other person. What part of their beliefs may be right? What are some of their strengths, good qualities…? What might they be afraid of? If you are a person of faith, call to mind that the other is also a child of God.
• Pray – to listen well and clear your mind.
• Finally, let go of wanting to prove you are right (even if you may be). You know your facts but don’t use them as a weapon. It won’t help.
2. LISTEN: This doesn’t just mean being quiet, but truly try to understand the other’s position. Try to put their points into your own words to check that you are hearing them well.
3. BUILD RELATIONSHIP: If you don’t already know each other well, get to know each other’s interests, family, hobbies, etc. What might you have in common?
4. SEEK COMMON GROUND: Before focusing on your differences, explore what elements on the issue you might both hold in common. (Example: We both want a safe environment for our children; or to help those living in poverty, or a fair justice system…We may differ on the best way to achieve these.)
5. EXPLORE YOUR DIFFERENCE: Probably best to limit this to one or two differences in the beginning.
• The goal is not to convert the other to your position.
• The goal is to understand the other better so that you can remain friends, relatives, neighbors, fellow citizens.
• The ultimate goal is to build a better/fairer society for the common good of all.
6. BRING AN ATTITUDE: When responding to a statement the other makes that you disagree with or that bothers you, resist the temptation to fight back. An attitude of receptive humility works better.
• Christians, might ask yourself the classic question, “What would Jesus do?” He is known for both speaking truth to power but also being merciful.
• For all, speak the truth as you understand it, but speak with respect. The bottom line is “What is the loving thing to do or say?”
7. PRACTICE: Several movements that can help are:
Braver Angels https://braverangels.org Focusses on political divides between liberals, conservatives and others.
Living Room Conversations https://livingroomconversations.org/ provides guides in home or online conversations on over 100 controversial topics.
Civilize It https://www.usccb.org/civilizeit includes a pledge and resources to help Catholics enter into respectful dialogue around civic virtues.
All Sides https://www.allsides.com/about strengthens our democratic society with balanced news, diverse perspectives, and real conversation
National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation https://www.ncdd.org/ is a network to bring people together across divides to tackle today’s challenges.


For Families
(During times of pandemic, illness, or whenever...)

During the 2020-21 Covid-19 Pandemic many of our family customs changed. With social distancing and faith communities restricting how people gather at church, many of us have had to rethink what it means to “go to church.” For Catholics, Sunday Mass is the most common way that we express our faith in public. Certainly many parishes have offered live streaming of Mass and our own family gathered around the computer screen for this for a while.
In time, we returned to “in-person” Mass, but that required masks and no congregational singing. Eventually we could take off the masks and sing – but not too forcefully. Besides, if your family had children under 12 who could not yet be vaccinated, it was risky to take them to a public Mass.
This reminded me of our early years of parenting when occasionally we would have “Church at Home.” Two variations of this are:

A prayer service you design yourselves. A typical flow might be:
• Choose a theme and arrange some prayer items on a table (Bible, crucifix, flowers, etc.)
• Read something from scripture or other spiritual resource
• Share reflections on the reading
• Recite some common prayers together (Our Father, Hail Mary, whatever)
• Petitions
• Song sprinkled throughout

A form closer to a Eucharistic liturgy, such as:
• Opening song
• Scripture(s) of the day
• Family discussion on the readings
• Petitions
• Sign of Peace
• Blessing of some bread and juice
• Reverently eating the bread and drinking the juice
• Closing song

We didn’t present these times of prayer as a pretend Mass, but we did approach it as a holy family time. After all, “Church” is a gathering of believers. It doesn’t always have to be done in a building that has a steeple and pews.


For Couples
Rooted In Love videos

Dr. Jim Healy walks with couples during the COVID pandemic. A speaker, writer, and consultant on marriage and family topics, Jim has just started a series of short videos (2-3 minutes) call,Rooted in Love (2020) to help couples enrich their marriage. Jim's down to earth snippets help couples deepen their marriage with simple strategies that can inspire and refresh your bond. Click here to watch his entertaining and helpful videos.


For Families
Holy Thursday Foot Washing at Home
(When physically attending Church services is impossible or whenever family healing and humility are needed)

The Setting: Place a Bible and a bowl of water in the center of the family dinner table or on a small table that the family can gather around. Place a hand towel next to the bowl, Family members gather around the table.

Leader: We gather together tonight to remember how on the evening that the Church now calls Holy Thursday, that Jesus had a “Last Supper” with his apostles. We gather as family and as Church to experience what it might have been like to have Jesus wash our feet and to pass on that service to another. It’s not that our feet are totally dirty, but it is a way of reminding ourselves that each of us must stoop to serve each other and allow another to serve us.

Reader: Scripture: John 13:1-5

Leader: Let’s spend a quiet moment thinking about what it means to wash each others’ feet. Then we will take turns washing the feet of each other. PAUSE:
This water reminds us that Jesus asks us to be servants to each other, to be “doers” for others. Let us extend our hands in blessing over the water and ask God to bless it

Blessing of the Water
Reader: Creator God, Your gift of water brings life and freshness to the earth.
It cleans us when we are dirty, it refreshes us and bring us renewed energy.
Renew in us the living spring of Your life.
May this water remind us that You washed the feet of Your disciples and You ask us to wash the feet of each other.
You call us to help and to serve each other. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
All: Amen

Washing: Each person washes the feet of the person standing to the right and dries them with a towel. Continue until all family members have sashed and been washed.
(Adapted from Celebrate Family of the Center for Ministry Development)


For Adults (or anyone who has extra time)
What to do when Work, School, Church, Events, or Trips are cancelled?

Survival: If you are faced with illness, loss of income, or no discretionary time because you are responding to the needs of Covid-19 victims – Lean on us who have the time to help.
For the rest of us: Covid-19 and cancellations may be an inconvenience but we have the gift of extra free time that has been opened up by the cancellations. Following are some ideas.

1. It’s OK to feel sad
It’s human to regret missing something you planned to do. Take a moment to grieve your loss…and then go on with your life.
2. Be prayerful
Assuming that your basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, health, and income are met, remember that some of our “neighbors” are in need of these basics. Be grateful and prayerful.
3. Respond to those in need
Assuming that your brain is still open and working, consider what actions you may be able to take to relieve someone’s lack of food, clothing, shelter, health, or income. After that –

Work: If your job is reduced, delayed, or the venue changed to home, BUT your income is not seriously impacted you have the gift of extra time. You could always binge watch TV or videos but what may you have been putting off because you just didn’t have the time?
1. Clean or Declutter – your home. See my Living Lightly blog for ideas.
2. Exercise – Start or expand home exercise options. Climb those stairs, walk, or bike more.
3. Cook – Offer extras to neighbors who don’t have the time or places that feed the hungry.
4. Garden – Get your garden ready for planting.
5. Repair – something that’s broken.
6. Communicate – Talk on the phone or internet with friends and family.
7. Meditate, Read, Write.
School: If you are a student or parent of a student, a school closure changes everything. College and high school students can often continue studies at home if they have a structure or are self-motivated. For elementary age students it’s harder not to just fritter the time away and requires more parental involvement. But what to do when the school work is done?
1. Have a Family Meeting to plan a family outing or “inning”. See Just Family Nights.
2. Creative play – Pull out those old board games (Monopoly, Scrabble, cards, Settlers…)
3. Tell stories or answer one of these 65 Family Questions
4. Play outside – Ride bikes, hunt for recyclable trash, Hide & Seek, skate
5. Read library books
6. Play dress-up with stuff around the house.
7. If all else fails – Help around the house.
Church: It’s good to gather and pray with people who share your faith and values. But, with churches, mosques, and temples also canceling services it doesn’t mean that you need to be in a spiritual desert.
1. Have “Church at Home” – a special meal that includes breaking bread and grape juice.
2. Include scripture, discussion, petitions, the Our Father, sign of peace, a blessing, song.
3. See Beyond Grace and Bedtime for additional ideas.
4. A Church “Service” need not always look like worship. Consider these Family Service ideas
Events & Trips: Put these nice but optional things in perspective.
Follow the advice of Queen Elsa in Frozen and Let It Go.
For more ideas see Joshua Becker's 14 Achievable Tasks...to do While Stuck Inside


For Families (or anyone who is too busy)

Sometimes our lives are cluttered with things. Sometimes it’s "Things To Do" that clutter our mind and time. Here’s a collection of tips I’ve developed over the years to deal with taming time.
1. Pray first:
Even if you’re not “religious,” taking time daily to contemplate who I am and what’s important – is important. If I wait till there’s time, other priorities crowd out this spiritual time. Now that we are no longer in the active parenting stage of life, first thing in the morning works for me. For those with other bio-rhythms last thing at night can qualify as first in anticipation of the next day.
2. Set priorities:
Most time-management gurus advise identifying no more 3 priorities that you hope to accomplish each day. Do those first, starting with the top priority. This is good unless your top priority is to create world peace or becomes a day long project. Solution: Estimate the time your top priorities will take and if one might take more than 1/3 of your working day, reevaluate. Set deadlines. Exception: 3 Minute Rule. If several things are not top priorities but are quick and easy, do them early.
3. Keep a To Do List:
Consider a To Do list not as a burden but rather a tool that frees you of the stress of keeping everything in your head. Some things are necessary and have a deadline; others are nice to do if time allows. One beauty of a To Do list is the satisfaction and joy of crossing tasks off (in red) when accomplished. .
4. Develop Email/Text/Phone Protocols:
Only check emails after your basic priorities for the day are set lest you wallow in email purgatory before starting the important stuff. However, email does allow you to identify some 3 Minute Rule tasks from your To Do list and quickly cross them off.
• Reduce Email:
- Don’t reply to all unless “all” really need to know.
- State the goal and deadline clearly. For example: Need a reply by ___. For your information, No need to reply avoids unnecessary “Thank you…” emails
- Expedite scheduling large group meetings with an app like Doodle. https://doodle.com/
- Filter and/or Unsubscribe from unwanted repetitive promotional emails
• Texting: Best for short messages, your kids, or times that might interrupt a person’s job, but don’t overdo it. Don’t contribute to another’s phone clutter.
• Phones: Turn alerts off or ignore during meals or meetings unless your mother is in the hospital. The live person in front of you always comes first.
5. Check social media last and only for a limited time – maybe 30 minutes.
6. Save Time for Recreation & Relaxing
This might come under setting the day’s priorities if you tend to be a Type A personality like me. Accomplishing a lot is good. Being a balanced person is better. Don’t waste time complaining unless you can do something to fix it.
7. Laugh, Turn it Over
Sometimes people and life will interfere with even the best time management system. Think of these as a spiritual call to pay attention to the humans and life around me. Laugh at the folly of trying to completely control my life.
For additional ideas see Wasting Time/Saving Time


For Couples

My spouse’s…
1. Favorite ethnic food ________________________
2. Best childhood friend _______________________
3. Biggest high school success __________________
4. First romantic interest _______________________
5. Favorite holiday _______________________
6. Least favorite holiday _______________________
7. Pet peeve at home _______________________
8. Unique talent _______________________
9. Pet peeve with church _______________________
10. A good memory of dating _____________________
11. Current major worry _______________________
12. Proudest achievement ______________________
13. Unfulfilled ambition _______________________
14. Favorite love song _______________________
15. Top 3 bucket list _______________________
16. Relaxation method ______________________
17. Go-to news source _____________________
18. Favorite politician _______________________
19. Favorite historical figure __________________
20. Unfulfilled dream ________________________
By Robert Fontana, How Well Do YouI Know Your Spouse


For Couples

For a more expanded article on this topic see Who me, pray?...With her?

OK, we might give it a try, but where do we start?
There is no wrong way to pray and the desire to try is itself prayer. First some preliminary decisions:

1. Decide a time
Presumably both of you are very busy. Isn’t everyone these days? So finding an agreeable, semi-reliable time is essential. After experimenting with several times of day my husband and I agreed on first thing in the morning (about 15-20 min. before the first child is expected to awake.) Since Jim is a morning person and I’m not, his job is to wake me and say it’s time.

2. Decide a place
Anywhere will do, but it’s nice to have a bible or whatever reading you plan to use handy. If clutter is endemic to your home at least find a place where you can cover it or turn your back on it. Personally, I like to have a window that I can look out of and see the sky. If it’s dark, lighting a candle can be inspiring.

3. Decide how often
Ideally, daily is the way to go since there is a rhythm and regularity to it. In our own marriage, however, we have made peace with a less than ideal but workable goal. We commit to weekdays since that’s more predictable than the weekends. We figure Mass takes care of Sunday. We also make exceptions for illness, being out of town, pregnancy (when almost any time felt nauseous), or unexpected interruptions like crying babies. It’s not perfect, but we feel we’re doing OK if we meet our bottom line of “doing it more often than not”. God wants our attention not our guilt.

So what do we do once we’re sitting together?
There are many ways to pray depending on your style and preferences. Here are a few:
___Memorized prayers __Reflection on today or tomorrow
___Reading scripture __Guided meditation (from a book)
___Writing in a journal __Reading an inspirational book
___Rosary or devotions __Meditation on a spiritual theme
___Liturgy of the Hours __Your own creation __________
Rank the above styles from 1 to 10 and find the ways that appeal to both of you.

Hey, we’re not theologians. What do we do with the information above?
Keep it simple. After trying to be creative and experimenting with a variety of styles my husband and I found that for regular couple prayer to work for us it had to be very simple. Our current format is to say the following Morning Offering together and take some quiet personal time..

Morning Offering Click here for YouTube video
Lord, thank You for another day.
In this quiet waking moment we thank You for the beauty of nature,
Mind, heart, hands, and feet to carry us through the day.
We thank you for food to eat and time to work.

Walk with us through this day.
Give us the wisdom and strength To face the challenges of this day.

Bless the tasks we take on today.
Bless our family and all those close to us.
Indeed, bless all people on earth, for their needs and concerns are also precious to You.

Mary, we turn especially to you.
Like you, help us to bring your son, Jesus, into our world.
May our efforts today contribute to building the kind of world which God calls us to protect. Amen

My current favorite scripture guide is: Give Us This Day.


For Anyone

Often when I give talks about simplifying one’s life by reducing clutter and letting go of extra stuff, people ask about memorabilia. One woman said she had been saving Christmas cards for 10 years. It reminded her of her many friends – but, she seldom if ever, reviewed them. Another person felt that by giving away or throwing away gifts from deceased relatives or friends that he was disrespecting their memory. These are common attitudes that can keep us tied to mementos.

One step that many people take is to photograph the keepsake and save it digitally. At some point, however, it’s freeing to move beyond the things that remind us and internalize the love of that person or experience. Only you can know when the time feels right. Perhaps this prayer to accompany letting go of memorabilia can help.

Preparatory Steps:
• Decide whether the memento is to be passed on to another person, donated to a cause, or returned to the earth (buried, recycled, or discarded).
• Decide whether to do this ritual alone or with others.

Set the object(s) in front of you in a pleasing and honored way. Say something like the following:

Letting Go Of a Symbol – Internalizing the Memory
In this time of remembering, I call to mind this object which has held meaning for me. It is tempting to confuse the object with the person or experience what I value and want to honor. Yet the object is just a reminder, and I no longer need to hang on to it for I am ready to carry ____________ (name) in my heart. The memory of ____________ is now within me. As I prepare to let go of this memento, I remember the good times associated with it, for example: _________________________________________________________________________.
I want to honor the goodness and lessons learned from ______________. These will always be with me. It is time to let go of the tangible symbol of ________________ but not the memory.
• (If given to another person) May ____________ (name) enjoy its beauty and utility.
• (If given to a cause) May this further the work of ______________.
• (If disposed of) May the universe reclaim this paper, metal, wood, element, ___________ as part of creation.
All is good.


For Families

With social media and a plethora of news sources filling our kid’s minds (and even adult minds) with questionable and biased information, parents may wonder how to help their children be news savvy. Our children and teens may know lots about technology and the internet but not always be so wise about how to consume and evaluate the media. The future of our country is linked to the media literacy of our children. Following are some tips to get you started:
1. Parents can’t control all access their children have to media but you’re also not helpless and clueless. Agree with you child about reasonable limits for time spent on screens at home.
2. Take note of your own viewing and listening habits. Public radio and TV are usually carefully sourced, Your kids will pick up a lot by osmosis.
3. Point out biased news when you read it, see it, or hear it.
4. Help them recognize how advertisers try to manipulate them into buying things they don’t need. Politicians may bend or distort the truth in order to get your vote.
5. With younger children you can play a game with commercials, saying something like, “What tricks are they playing to get us to buy their product?”
6. Teach older children to check out “facts” by going to places like Snopes or FactCheck.org.
7. Democracy and Me offers parents and teachers educational resources for becoming a knowledgeable citizen including lesson plans and numerous resources.
8. Discuss possible Family Media Commandments such as:

  • Thou shalt not share unverified news.
  • Thou shall ask for sources and evidence.
  • Thou shall remember that the internet and social networks can be manipulated.


For Couples

Humor for the Hard of Hearing.
Ted feared his wife Maria wasn't hearing as well as she used to and he thought she might need a hearing aid. Not being quite sure how to approach her, Ted privately went to see their family doctor to discuss the problem.
The doctor told him of a simple informal test that Ted could perform to give the doctor a better idea about Maria’s hearing loss without upsetting her..
Directions: Stand about 40 feet away from Maria, and say something in a normal conversational speaking tone to see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response.
That evening, when Maria was in the kitchen cooking dinner and Ted was in the den - about 40 feet away – he says, “Honey, what's for dinner?
No response.
So Ted moves closer to the kitchen, about 30 feet from Maria and repeats, “Maria, what's for dinner?
Still no response.
Next Ted moves into the dining room where he is about 20 feet from Maria and asks, “Honey, what's for dinner?
Again he gets no response.
So, Ted walks up to the kitchen door, about 10 feet away. “Honey, what's for dinner?
Again there is no response.
So he walks right up behind her. “Maria, what's for dinner?
For God’s sake, Ted, for the FIFTH time, CHICKEN!”

Proving once again, that fault can be in the ears of the beholder. What are some recurring complaints you have about your spouse (and vice-versa)? Whose fault is it? Is one of you willing to try to change?


For Families

Most of my family activities are geared to parenting children who still live at home. As our own children have moved out of the home, however, we have come to understand a different side of parenting.

We were called to deepen our own faith, not just help our children hold on to theirs. As young adults they are now often our teachers. Some of it is practical (like how to manage new technology). Other times they teach us through resisting our traditional ways of being or believing.

If your children are still living at home, put your energy into planting a solid foundation of faith, morality, and service. If they are already sprung, you may find the article I wrote for St. Anthony Messenger - When Children Become Adults - helpful.


For Couples

During this contentious and seemingly everlasting political season, differing political positions can squelch a couple's feeling of love for each other. (This might also apply to relationships with in-laws and other family members.) There are several approaches that otherwise loving people can take depending on the circumstance:

1. Ignore – Decide that the time, person, or circumstance does not allow for a fruitful dialogue. For example, holiday celebrations where the whole family is together is not usually a good time to initiate conversation with relatives whom you know disagree with you.

2. Acknowledge briefly – State your alternative position, but do not engage. Spouses who know each other’s political positions well but do not have the urge to be strongly involved in politics, may simply agree to disagree.

3. Engage – When spouses (or other adults important to you) have strongly held political positions or support opposing candidates, it’s worth intentionally seeking to have a respectful dialogue. In this situation the goal is not to have a debate about who is right, but rather to demonstrate that you understand the other. You are not seeking to convert your beloved to your position. (This can also apply when you have different religious convictions.)

Step 1: Find a good time to talk
Step 2: Spouse #1 fully describes their political position and WHY.
Step 3: Spouse #2 uses classic active listening skills of reflecting back in his/her own words the gist of what spouse #1 has said
Step 4: Spouse #2 then tries to intuit what feelings, fears, or needs may underlie spouse #1’s position. This might be a stretch since you aren't a mind reader, but are seeking clarification..
Step 5: Spouse #2 confirms and/or clarifies what spouse 2 has reflected back until both agree that spouse #2 understands spouse #1. This does NOT mean that spouse #2 AGREES with spouse #1.
It may be that through this process one spouse reconsiders their position, but that is not the goal. Only when a person feels fully understood (and not denigrated or foolish) is it possible for them to even consider the possibility of another position. It’s not the “listening” spouse’s job to hammer home their position and push for a conversion. Living in harmony means respecting differences.
(Sources: classic active listening and Marshal Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication.) c

For Families

One of the common issues facing modern families is how to balance family and work. Add to this the challenge of having time for oneself, and it can feel like life is a treadmill of unfinished To Do lists. I thought that it would get easier when our children were sprung, but nature abhors a vacuum and other things, good things, entered my own world to take up the space. Following are things I’ve learned over the years for the different stages of life.

Sometimes we can learn from toddlers' persistent question - Why?
Why am I searching for more Life/Work Balance? Is something out of balance now in my life or do I merely want to confirm that I'm OK? "Why" becomes your motivator.
Assuming that you are asking the question because you wonder if you are doing justice to your spouse, kids, and self, put your "Why" in that context.* The "Why" might be:

  • I'm feeling stressed by having too much to do. (Evaluate what is urgent and essential. Let go or delay the rest. If you're not by nature an organized person, deal with that.)
  • I want to give more attention to my spouse, kids, or self, but I can't because my work is so demanding. (Assess you and your spouse's jobs. Can modifications be made?)
  • I want to make a positive difference in the world, but my work or family obligations don't give me time. (Doing good is good but you may have to broaden your definition of what "good" you are called to do at this time in your life. Bite the bullet and prioritize.)

*Work usually takes it's time off the top of our lives because it's our livelihood, scheduled, and a source of self esteem.

Although this can be a short or forever stage, the most important thing is to establish two priorities:
Personal spiritual life. This can take many different forms from saying traditional prayers to meditation, to meeting with a spiritual director. The key thing is to develop the practice of evaluating the necessary life tasks at hand and discerning what is most important in life at this time. One way to do this is to make time to sit quietly listening to God for at least 5 minutes a day. (Using commute time is a possibility.) This is the foundation for all the later stages.
Your couple relationship. Ideally this can merge with deepening one’s spirituality since what is really important in family life comes back to my relationship with my spouse. Work and career are important of course, but taking quiet time to reflect on the meaning of life helps to calm the rat race and sort through career decisions.

Eat dinner together at home as many days as possible. No phones. No TV.
Add a weekly date night no matter how busy you are with parenting and work because if the marriage isn’t strong everything else falls apart.
Up (but change) your prayer time. In addition to at least 5 minutes of personal quiet reflection, you may need to snatch another 5 minutes of family prayer at meals, bedtime, etc.
Assess whether income or time with young children is more essential. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, but sometimes our culture assumes there is no choice. Explore part time work, flexible schedules. Consider creative options like job sharing or switching off the parent at home.
Delay. Involvement in worthwhile endeavors like world peace and protecting the environment may have to take a back seat to diapering and homework monitoring. This is holy work too.

Up your personal quiet time to 15 minutes a day. You'll need it. (Can be done while waiting for your child to get ready to leave, to be willing to talk, to return home after a date...)
Keep the weekly date.

Add family meetings. This is the time that you and your kids plan together things like chores, recreation, decision making, and of course hear each other’s complaints.
Add family nights. This is different from a family meeting in that it isn’t for decisions but rather for family fun and sharing values. See Just Family Nights for ideas.
Stay in touch with other parents who can help you discern what is really a crisis and what is simply a normal growth phase.
Waiting isn't a bad option. With all of these family nurturing times you may still not have time to make a dent in world hunger or poverty unless your work for an organization like Oxfam.

Increase quiet time listenting to God.
• Discern.
Hopefully this is a time to deepen your spiritual life even more which will help you discern whether to plunge more deeply into your career or to use your discretionary time for a volunteer cause.
Stay in touch with your local kids (That’s what Sunday dinners are for.) Skype the further away kids.
Mentor others. Pay attention to succession planning in your work and volunteer commitments.


For Couples

Many marriages go along relatively smoothly until they don’t. As a professional family minister and counselor for over 40 years one thing I’ve learned is that counseling can be helpful but prevention is better. In this spirit I offer the following self-evaluation to check whether your marriage has a good PH (preventive health) balance. It’s not rocket science but rather some common sense areas to periodically review.
Are we satisfied with how we share household chores, child care, jobs, volunteer work?
Does anything need to be tweaked to feel fairer?
For example, In the beginning of our marriage, I did the cooking because I did not have an outside job. After 5 years of marriage, I became the main wage earner and Jim realized that he liked to cook more than I did. We started splitting the cooking 50/50. As our jobs changed Jim took on 75% of the cooking and I added special projects to my share of chores. Now Jim does 95% of the cooking and I happily clean up and do other chores. Everybody’s happy.
All work and no play make for a dull and dying marriage.
What are your favorite past-times?
Are many of them shared?
Are you satisfied with the balance?
For example: We started out doing movies, dinner out, walks in the woods. Eventually movies and dinner weren’t especially exciting. We now enjoy contra dancing and have gotten into the habit of playing cribbage or gin for an hour most evenings. It's become a marital ritual. We gave up Scrabble because we disagreed on how long a turn should be. It’s important to be relatively evenly matched.
Prayer probably won’t take as much time as work or play but it is equally important to keep a perspective on what’s important in your life. Depending on your life stage and whether or not your schedule is your own, i.e. kids take their time off the top, you may have a half an hour a day or simply a minute. Review:
IF you want to pray together?
WHEN you are most receptive to prayer?
HOW LONG is practical?
HOW? (see Who Me, Pray?...With Her? for ideas.
For example: Over the years we’ve experimented with formal prayer services (too much planning), trying to wake before the kids to catch some quiet time (not a reliable goal), shared spontaneous prayer (worked for a while but found we had different prayer rhythms). Currently we do a short morning offering together then each take a longer time at our preferred time of day. See our Morning Offering as an example.


For Couples

The traditional Golden Rule reads “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) As generous and compassionate as this is, it doesn’t always work as intended – especially in marriage.
For example: My husband’s favorite dessert is coconut cream pie. I’m not a fan of coconut. It wouldn’t be very loving of him to make me a coconut cream pie for my birthday.
Likewise, when I’m upset about something, I like to ventilate and talk it through with Jim. When he’s upset (which is rare) he prefers to think it through privately first.
Thus, I propose we tweak the Golden Rule: Do to others as they would have you do to them. This requires knowing each other well enough and trying to understand your spouse's needs rather than just giving what you would want.
Try this for a start::
1. When we have an argument or fight would I rather be by myself for awhile or work it out right away?
2. Do I like to be surprised with a gift or on a date, or would I rather have a say so it’s what I really want?
3. Would I appreciate my beloved cleaning out our photos, junk drawer, basement, or would I rather do it myself (or together) since I know the way I like it done?
4. When making love do I like adventure or comfort?
5. Create your own…


For Families

At what age should a child be allowed to have a cell phone? A smart phone?
This is the million dollar question that many parents ask themselves. (Some parents just give in because they are tired of fighting the battle.)

I reviewed over 10 websites, surveyed teachers, family ministers, and parents. I got a lot of input but no magic age. The consensus seems to be - It depends…
  • On the needs of the child (Does the child travel independently to school, sports, etc?)
     Thus the cell phone serves the purpose of either safety or convenience.)
  • On the maturity of the child (Has the child shown good judgment on other life decisions?)
The primary principle that experts agreed upon is that for children a cell phone is a privilege, not a right.

First let’s look at the facts. (Kaiser Family Foundation 2010 survey)
85% of children aged 14-17 (high school) have cell phones
69% of children aged 11-14 (middle school) have cell phones
31% of children aged 8-10 (elementary school) have cell phones

Of course, just because everybody else is doing it, doesn’t make it good. (See “It depends…”)
Parents, consider how countercultural you are willing to be. If you set rules that vary greatly from the norm, how might your child deal with being very different from their peers? This can be character building or it can spark rebellion and secretiveness.

Given the above facts and your child’s particular needs and maturity, I propose the following process for parental decision making:
1. When your child starts to ask about a cell phone, have “the talk.” This includes:
    • “Cell phones are a privilege.”
    • Why do you want/need a cell phone? Is it peer driven or need driven?
    • Give evidence of your maturity.
2. If the responses seem honest and adequate, propose family policies such as:
    • Cell phones are “put to bed’ in a public place at bedtime.
    • Meals and face-to-face conversations trump talking on the phone.
    • Parents have passwords and are allowed to check phones at random.
    • Inform about how phones can be abused (bullying, sexting, texting while driving).
      Be especially wary of Kik.
    • Who will pay for it? Paying for it themselves gives points for maturity.
    • Consequences for abusing the privilege.

So, what would Solomon say is the magic age for first cell phone? By the power invested in me by no one, but informed by my research, assuming need and maturity, I would propose:
    • 10-12: (Double digit ages) First “dumb phone.” No data; just the ability to call or text in an         emergency or to be picked up.
    • 13-17: (Teens) First smart phone - ideally paid for by the teen out of his/her wages.
        My own preference would be for most high schoolers to forgo a phone with data
        assuming they have access to a computer at home.


For Couples

BEFORE WORDS (Non-verbal Communication)
TIP: If a verbal and non-verbal message conflicts – the NON-VERBAL is stronger.
Question: Think of a time that your words and actions conflicted.
Example: “Anything bothering you?” “No, … nothing.” (said with a sigh)

DURING WORDS (Listening)
TIP: Don't listen with your "answer running.”
Question: What kind of conversations do I typically get impatient or defensive with?

BAD WORDS (Eliminate the Negative)
TIP: If a negative and positive message are present at the same time – the NEGATIVE is stronger.
Go to: If I've told you once, I've told you a thoussand times exercise.
Example: “You look beautiful…BUT are you sure you’ll in comfortable in those shoes?”

BETTER WORDS (Affirmation)
TIP: A compliment should be specific and true.
Question: One thing that I appreciate about you today is…

TIP: Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they merely are. (no morality to feelings)
Action: List 5 to 10 FEELINGS that you are experiencing now or within the last 24 hours

AFTER WORDS (Forgiveness)
TIP: Apologies are easy. Making amends makes it true.
Question: Is there any lingering hurt in our relationship? What action can I take to show my sincere effort to improve the situation?


For Families

It’s Christmas day. The gifts have been unwrapped and hopefully appreciated. Is it all over?

But wait! Remember that old song, The 12 Days of Christmas? What was that all about? Do we really have to find 2 turtle doves, 7 swans a swimming, and a dozen drummers to complete Christmas? Liturgically the Christmas season starts on December 25 and goes for 12 more days ending on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany when the 3 wise men found Jesus. For Christians this event represents the recognition of Jesus by the broader world beyond the Jewish people.

Following are some ideas of how your family might celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. The days focus on doing things together with the family and going outside. (Remember the shepherds and 3 kings spent their days outside and the stable would be considered outside by today’s living standards.) Therefore, limit alone time, inside time, and electronics. Let the following suggestions prompt your own creativity.

Dec. 25: Open presents; be thankful

1. Dec. 26: Play a new game (or an old beloved game)                              Family Fun Night #1*

2. Dec. 27: Serve a neighbor (shovel snow, share a present…)                           Go outdoors

3. Dec. 28: Make music together (sing, play instruments, listen)                  Family Fun Night #2

4. Dec. 29: Look for sheep (You may need to go to a zoo or nature center,
but any animal that crosses your path could be food for thought)                          Go outdoors

5. Dec. 30: Give a gift (Don’t buy it, choose something you already own
and give it to someone who would like it.)                                                    Family Fun Night #3

6. Dec. 31: New Year’s Eve – Be a wise man/woman. Go outside at night
and gaze at the stars. Make a wish for the new Year                                              Go outdoors

7. Jan. 1: New Year’s Day – Visit a baby (or an elderly person)                   Family Fun Night #4

8. Jan. 2: Walk your neighborhood or the city. Say “Hi” to strangers.
Give money or food to those you see along the way.                                               Go outdoors

9. Jan. 3: Pray in a different way. Try a different Grace before meals,
Sing a prayer, Rosary, Visit a different church/mosque/synagogue.            Family Fun Night #5

10. Jan. 4: Take a hike, go sled riding                                                                      Go outdoors

11. Jan. 5: Make crowns or other King/Queen type fancy clothes to wear tomorrow.
Bake a "Kings' Cake" with a coin or tiny plastic baby hidden in it.               Family Fun Night #6

12. Jan. 6: Epiphany: Dress up like a Kings & Queens. Invite someone to eat the “King’s cake” with you.

*Family Fun Night: Each day a different member of the family gets to choose an activity they’d like to share with the family. It could be playing a game, a new Christmas gift, or an outdoor activity. Rotate turns. If you have a small family, you may want to do a second round of turns. The point is that everyone willingly does the chosen activity. This is one exception to minimizing technology games. If your child wants to play his/her new video game, it’s OK as long as everyone in the family can participate.


For Families
Adapted from Vibrant Faith @ Home Activity, "Serious or Not - Thanks"

Thanksgiving dinners are traditional and so is saying grace before the meal. It can also be pretty predictable. Liven up your Table Prayer at Thanksgiving with some forethought and these ideas.

Alert each person coming to the meal to bring one physical item that is a symbol or reminder of a blessing they’ve had during the past year and for which they are thankful. Offer the following categories.
1. Person: This could be a reminder of a living or dead person who has been a blessing in your life. For example, a married person might bring their wedding ring. A widow(er) might bring a photo of the deceased. A young parent might bring a child’s toy. Some may bring a reminder of a dead relative or a saint who has been a guiding influence. Or it can simply be someone who helped you with a job, homework, cleaning up…
2. Place: This might be a photo or memento of a vacation spot or a special place of peace or wonder in the home or yard.
3. Thing: Some small material possession (or a symbol of it if it’s large) that has made your life easier this past year.
4. Event: A photo or symbol of an event that brought joy to you this year.
5. Talent: Humility does not mean denying our talents but honestly recognizing them and sharing them. Perhaps a person choosing this category would name their talent or even sing a song, play an instrument, or tell a joke.
6. Mistake that you’ve learned from: For example, even a job loss or failing a class can teach us something about ourselves and prompt personal growth.
7. Silliness or Laughter: Is there something silly you did that in hindsight you can laugh about. Can you tell a joke on yourself?

Each guest should bring one visible object but may also bring an invisible item as they share a talent, a mistake, a lighthearted story, or remember someone who helped them.

1. Before the meal is served, gather at the meal table and put the large basket in the middle. The prayer leader opens with the first sentence below. Then four different people say each of the bulleted parts.

Generous God, who is the source of all life, we give thanks today for all the people, places, and things that have enriched our lives this past year.
• We are grateful for both the happy times and times that we’ve cried out of loss or pain – for both bond us to each other.
• We are thankful for successes and failures for even the failures testify to our humanity.
• We are grateful for objects that make our lives easier and for invisible qualities that enlighten or amuse us.
• Our thanks includes serious thoughts and changes in our lives but also humor that lightens our heart.

2. The host then invites each person in turn to show the object representing their thanks, explain what it means, and place it in the common basket. Each guest concludes their sharing with: I thank God, and all of you for being in my life this past year.

3. Conclude with all saying together: For all these things and more, we give God thanks. Amen.

Variation: In the deepest spirit of Thanksgiving, guests could also be invited to bring a non-perishable food, a piece of clothing, a tool, or a toy that they would be willing to give to another person sometime during the Thanksgiving weekend. This requires a little more organization and knowledge about places and people to take the items to. Local resources are best but see 101 Places Your Clutter Can Do Good for ideas.


For Couples
From FOUNDATIONS, the newsletter for Newly Married Couples

Keeping track of arguments may seem strange, but reflecting on disagreements can give us valuable insights into the ways we fight and resolve disagreements.

When did we last argue? _____________________________________

What was the argument about? _______________________________

How did it start? ____________________________________________

How long did our argument last? ______________________________

How did we resolve the argument? ____________________________

Was I satisfied with the way we resolved the argument? _________

What would I like to change about that conflict? _________________

Did we apologize to each other? ________________________________

Did we resolve the conflict or just drop the subject? _______________

Is this argument one that occurs again and again? ________________

Arguments come and go. We disagree, shout, fight, and ask forgiveness. We go on and before long another argument erupts. Looking back is worth the effort if it helps reduce the number and severity of our disagreements.

You may be surprised to learn that your answers to these questions are quite different from one another. But please don't argue about your answers to this survey! Try to set some rules for future disagreements. See When We Disagree and other enrichment exercises above for additional tips in resolving conflicts.

Two final questions:
1. Is there a pattern I notice in the way we fight?

2. What’s one change that I can make to resolve our arguments more constructively?


For Couples

Although watching a movie is not my preferred way to spend a date night (too little interaction, too much time staring ahead at a screen) still, it can stimulate conversation afterwards. Besides, sometimes we're just to wiped out to be creative and it's relaxing to veg out for awhile. It is in this spirit that I offer the following Marriage Movies. Some are classics, many of romantic comedies, most are not recent. Click here for more description on many of them. I welcome your additions.

MY FAVORITES:   The Story of Us      &      Notting Hill,

Other Good Ones (alphabetically) :
50 First Dates
An Affair to Remember, 1957
Another Year
Away From Her (2007)
Date Night
Don Juan de Marco (especially for older couples)
Family Man
Groundhog Day
It Happened One Night
Knocked Up (2007)
Life as a House (2002) - Kevin Kline
Match Point
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
My Life (1994) (death of a spouse)
Pretty Woman
Return to Me
Shall We Dance?
The Descendants
The Notebook
The One I Love (new addition)
The Thin Man
The Thing About My Folks
When Harry Met Sally
You've Got Mail


For Families

Most of my Family Enrichment Activities are geared to families with children still in the home. Some of us, however, have sprung our kids. One of our son’s lives in the same city as we do, but the others all live out of town. Our one married son lives in Washington DC, another lives in Singapore, and our daughter currently lives in Kenya. About a year ago we realized that even though we got together for Christmas, would periodically Skype or call, and carried all of our children close to our heart, it was getting a little too hit and miss for us. We wanted more reliable and significant connecting time for the whole family. Here’s what worked for us.

We decided on a once a month whole family connection. (We had been communicating with our kids in foreign countries once a week, but that was just parent to child interaction and didn’t involve their siblings.)
An Internet vehicle
We chose Google Hang Out as the medium because we could see everyone on screen at once and it was free.
A Regular Time
We pick a Sunday each month since that day was relatively free for everyone in different time zones.
Special Occasions
If it’s a Birthday month, we “hang out” on the Sunday closest to the date of the Birthday and the person celebrating gets to pose a question for discussion. Sundays are also set for Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Thanksgiving. Months that don’t have a birthday or a feast are just set at a convenient Sunday.
The Question
We rotate who poses a question for discussion. Some questions that have prompted enlightening and amusing discussion have been:
• Now that you are adults and the statute of limitations has passed, what things did you get away with as a child that we might not know about?
• When you were young (early teens?), what did you want to be when you grew up? To what extent did you follow through on those dreams? Why/why not?
• What is important to you in a place to live?
• What’s your favorite Halloween memory?
• What is your most memorable family vacation? READ MORE


For Anyone

During the holidays (or anytime of celebration and partying) conscientious people can get attacks of "Holiday Guilt" - and this is a good thing. It might come while eating a scrumptious meal, enjoying a cozy fire with the family, opening beautifully wrapped presents, or relaxing at a beach resort. People who have good and tender hearts start realizing that not everyone is so blessed. We might feel a pang of guilt, maybe say a prayer for those less fortunate, but then go on with our good life. After all, we worked hard to earn the money to enjoy at least a little pleasure.

Whether Holiday guilt accosts you often, or only in Church or when you see a panhandler, there is a remedy. Consider these 3 "DOs."

  1. Do No Harm. Let's use Thanksgiving or Christmas as an example. Sure enjoy a nice meal, BUT don't stuff yourself silly. Give some presents, BUT don't go into debt.
  2. Do Some Good. Donate some food to a soup kitchen or donate money to a charity that feeds the hungry.
  3. Do Some Good That Will Last. This is the hardest part and it takes more than a day. It is a way of life. Doing good that will last means getting involved in changing the system that makes the playing field uneven. Consider why people are hungry? Are they just too lazy to work? Usually not. What's one step you can take to make the system more fair? It might be taking political action (contacting Congress to support funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). It might be joining an organization that works to train or employ disadvantaged people. It might take some time, thought, and effort, but it makes you part of the solution and guilt fades away - because you don't have time for it.


For Couples

October is the season of harvesting and Halloween. You may not be much of a gardener, but maybe you like to pretend or practice at it. Halloween, however, is a time when we get to pretend to be a different person, without any guilt or shame. Perhaps as a married couple you can explore what “masks” you sometimes put up to protect your ego or make yourself into more (or less) than your true self. Here are some possible masks to try on for size. Pick one that fits you and ask your spouse for his/her opinion.

1. Pretty/Handsome - I don’t feel attractive enough so I put on masks to make me look better; i.e. a lot of make-up, cosmetic surgery, hair coloring, dieting to lose the same 10 pounds over and over again.
2. Super Hero - My worth comes through saving people from harm, i.e. overproviding financially for my family, always rescuing the kids or other relatives from their mistakes, working so hard to advance my career that I’m seldom available for my family.
3. Scary - I get my way by intimidating others through force, sniping, ridicule, withdrawing affection...
4. Helpless - I get attention or get others to do things for me by calling attention to my inability to cook, read a map, mow the lawn, make social engagements...
5. Competent Fixer - My worth comes from being able to fix things around the home – either relationships or appliances. Don’t bother me with making love though, I’m too tired or busy fixing things.
6. Helpless Romantic/Charmer - I may not be much in the practical realm but I make up for it with sweet words and gestures. I know you love it.
7. Einstein - I’m so much smarter than the rest of humanity that everything would be better if you all just did what I said and honored by intellect.
8. Quiet Thinker - I’m not much of a talker. It’s fine with me if you just do the talking/socializing for both of us. I keep my feelings to myself. It may not help us feel closer to each other but it’s safer that way. I hate exercises like this.
9. Another Mask of Mine ___________________________________________
10. Another Mask of Yours _________________________________________
Of course most of these masks are exaggerations, but discuss together whether any of them hold a kernel of truth. Being vulnerable with each other and taking off your masks can bring you closer.


For Families
Adapted from Just Family Nights

Construction paper in 2 diferent colors. (We will use blue and orange in the sample.)
Five pictures of people (Caucasian, African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic)
Glue or Stapler

Prominently display the five pictures of different ethnic groups on a table. Light a candle and ask the family to ponder the pictures for one minute in silence.

The purpose of this session is to heighten the family's sensitivity to the feelings of those of another race or ethnic background.

Family members cut strips of construction paper and staple to make arm bands. One should be orange and the rest blue. Select one person to wear the orange arm band. (Each person will be given this opportunity.) The others should put on the blue arm bands. The family members walk into the living room and sit down. Show rejection to the person wearing the orange arm band by forcing him/her to sit in the corner. Whisper to each other saying negative things about that person. Be serious and don't smile.

(A variation on this activity is for everyone to wear orange arm bands except one person who wears blue. The "blue person" is seated in a comfortable seat of honor. All others sit on the floor. The "blue person" is allowed to snack on treats and speak whenever he/she wants. Everyone else must raise their hands to be recognized by the "blue person" before they speak. They may not eat. The "blue person" is always right and must be pampered.)

Repeat the activity with another person wearing the orange arm band. Do this until each person has worn the orange arm band.

Discuss the experience. Cultivate an atmosphere of warmth and openness so that everyone feels free enough to share their feelings.
Questions to explore:
1. How did it feel to be the only one wearing the orange (or blue) arm band
2. How did you feel when you were forced to sit in the corner on the floor?
3. How did the comments made about you affect how you felt about the rest of us?
4. What could have been done to create a better atmosphere of warmth and caring between those wearing the blue arm bands and the one wearing the orange arm band?
5. How can we uplift or put down other people with our words.

SONG: Close with the traditional civil rights song "We Shall Overcome"*.

TREAT: Serve anything colorful, like candy or cookies.

Related Scripture if desired: Luke 10:27

Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


For Adults & Couples

As Christians, Christ is the focus of our faith. But what about Mary, Jesus’ mother? Some Christians have a strong devotion to Mary as a way to Jesus. Some dismiss this as suggesting that Mary is as important as Christ. August 15 is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This activity will help you learn about Mary’s role in the Christian faith.

• The Feast of the Assumption of Mary is different from the Feast of Jesus’ Ascension. Christians believe that Jesus ascended into heaven under his own power. The assumption of Mary indicates that Mary was raised into heaven, not by her own power, but through the power of her son. It is a way for us to recognize her special and intimate relationship with her son.
• Mary as Mediatrix: Some mistakenly believe that there are Christians (especially Catholics) who worship Mary and regard her as equal to God. Because Mary was the mother of God, it is natural to hold her in high esteem and ponder the important relationship she must have had with her son, Jesus. Mary was the human person who brought Jesus to the world. Just as children sometimes will go through their mother (who they may feel closer to) to reach their father, so many people are inspired to go through Mary to connect with her son. Catholics honor Mary, but do not worship her. Mary is not God, but she can lead us to God.
• Why not just go directly to God? Fine, do it. There’s nothing wrong, however, with praying through human mediaries too. Sometimes people pray through saints that they feel a special connection with or a deceased relative who they believe is with God. Since the reality of a divine God is often hard to grasp, it’s a human instinct to approach God through human beings that we can identify with.

Understanding Mary’s role
• Since Mary is not God, but rather the one who bore Christ to the world, we can grow deeper in faith by contemplating what it means to bring Christ to the world. We can ask Mary to help us understand how to do this since Jesus grew, not only in her womb, but presumably also under her watchful care as a child. She was with the apostles during Jesus years of public ministry, and she stood by him at the crucifixion. We can assume that Mary experienced the human emotions that any parent would as they raise a child: joy in their accomplishments, worry about their future, fear for their safety, and sorrow at their death. So too, we can identify with Mary as she lived this close relationship with Jesus.
• To state the obvious, Jesus was a man. To be fully human, biology requires that he could not be both male and female. For many, Mary is a lens and a way to integrate and honor the feminine reality of the human race.
• Mary was strong. Mary is too often portrayed in popular culture as simply sweet, passive, humble, and blue. This is not bad because it may make her more approachable to some. To read the scriptures, however, we learn that Mary was a person of great strength, courage, and conviction. See her prayer, the Magnificat, below.

Praying with Mary
Slowly read the following scripture paying special attention to the bolded words.
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
(Lk 1:46-55)

Reflect on Mary’s prayer (which is reminiscent of Hannah’s prayer in 1Samuel 2:1-10)
• Remember that just as God has mercy on us for our failings, so too we should not claim credit for our successes.
• How am I powerful in my life (by virtue of race, gender, bodily strength, education, money) and how am I lowly? (This should not be a false humility but rather acknowledging that my gifts come from God and not solely my own virtue.
• When have I been hungry or ministered to those in need? When have I been too consumed with getting ahead, making money, or my self-importance?
• Is it helpful to me to include feminine characteristics of God in my prayer?

Assumptions About Marriage
• Just as people of faith can get confused about the role of Mary in salvation history, so too couples can go into marriage with assumptions that that lead to confusion rather than deepening love. What assumptions did you have before you were married that you’ve had to let go of in order to love your spouse better? For example:
    • If my spouse really loved me he/she would know what I wanted without me having to say it.
    • My spouse will never be thoughtless.l
    • My spouse and I share all the same values and likes.
    • Share your mistaken assumptions. Laugh about how naïve you were. Talk through those that still cause you irritation.

This is an adaptation of an enrichment activity I originally wrote for Vibrant Faith @ Home, an online resource for families of all ages seeking to deepen their faith.

For Families
An inspiring story of a 6-year-old's journey to giving away $37

Recently we visited one of our God-children, Micah. He and his family are Korean and about a year ago his parents showed him a video, "Don't Cry for Me Sudan," which covers the life of Korean Catholic priest John Lee Tae-Sok who worked as a doctor, teacher, conductor, and architect in the small Sudan village of Tonj. After seeing this movie, Micah wanted to do something to help. He decided to take part of his birthday, Christmas, and weekly chore money to donate to African Catholic Missions. We gave him a piggy bank in which to collect his money which he carefully saved for a full year.

On our last visit to Micah, it was time to break the piggy bank and send in his donation. This was harder than he had anticipated. Being six, and seeing all this money he had saved ($37) he started to think of all the toys he could buy with the money. We watched him waver and struggle with his decision to give it all away. His mother wisely said it was his decision. Eventually, with almost a tear in his eye, he said, “OK, I’m doing it.”

The lesson here for other families, I think is that children have a generous spirit. Parents can expose them to others in need – especially the stories of other children. Then invite them to contribute. Show them how they can give some of the money they earn or get from gifts as a gift to others. Give them opportunities to earn the money. Let them know that you give a certain percentage of your money to causes you believe in too. Maybe make it a matching fund with parents giving a percentage and children giving a percentage.

Our own family decided to do a scholarship fund for the high school most of our kids graduated from. Each year we all donate a sum and pick the scholarship winner. What causes do your kids care about? Animals, hunger, kids without shoes, etc. Help them see a way to start.


For Couples or Families

Whether you consider yourselves rich or poor (or like most of us "somewhere in between") there's always somebody who could benefit from a helping hand. If you and your spouse are blessed by having a comfortable life or if you would like to help your children start a practice of giving so that others can simply live, here's a process to help you get started. It is more satisfying to plan your charitable giving than it is to respond to endless appeals. This activity shows you how to develop a donation strategy and how to identify the most worthy charities to help you make those decisions knowing that your money will be doing the most good possible. Here's a summary of the process:

1. Field Of Service
Selecting a field of service means prioritizing needs are most important to our family lest we be distracted (or feel guilty) by appeals from the organizations working in fields that others can support. One might consider selecting Fields of Service from the 33 identified by Charity Navigator and also shown in the Interactive Appendix at the end of this link.

2. Geographic Balance
Selecting a geographic balance is another good step. While charity starts at home, there are huge numbers of important needs far way. What percent of your charitable giving do you want to allocate for local vs. international?

3. Avoid Future Misunderstandings
If other family members will be involved, it may be helpful to avoid future misunderstandings by establishing now what giving level will be exempt from this system AND who makes the final funding decisions.

4. How Much To Give
Should your charitable giving be high, moderate, or minimal?
Write your plan here. ________________________________________________________

5. Identify Specific Charities

Charities intend to be vehicles to a better world. To help us know which vehicles run best, evaluation services are available to help. Two evaluation services that stand out as superior are:

  • The Better Business Bureau (http://cincinnati.bbb.org/) website gives free access to reports about businesses and nonprofits that are both local and national.
  • Charity Navigator (www.CharityNavigator.org) provides basic information on all 1.6 million registered U. S. registered non-profits.

For a free do-it-yourself version of a Charity Evaluation Guide that can be used on any size charity, including those not rated by the national services, send an email to genegard24@aol.com Indicate if you want the Start-up edition (for charities in the first 5 years) or the Regular edition (for charities that have been operating for 5+ years).
Click here to see the full Donating with Confidence outline including links to many charities. An updated version will be available in late November 2016.


For Families

Kids sometimes get bored at Mass. Indeed, even conscientious adults can find themselves daydreaming during the readings. Have you ever found yourself replying “Thanks be to God.” and then realized that you had no recollection of the reading? Here’s a strategy for staying engaged. It’s especially appropriate for families with children aged 7-17.

  1. A day or two before Mass (or on the way in the car) read the 3 Sunday readings as a family.
  2. Each person shares what theme they think the priest or deacon will focus on in the homily. What point will he try to make? What’s the take away?
  3. After Mass, see who came closest? Were any of your family’s ideas an improvement?
  4. No reward is necessary. “Bragging rights” might be claimed if your family is the competitive type.


    For Couples

    Many married couples love each other dearly but through the course of their marriage may find that their sexual desires are not always in sync. It is often temporary or it may be the result of awkwardness in talking about sex. When discomfort talking about sexual intimacy is a factor, sometimes a prompt like this quiz can help a couple be more open and honest about what increases their pleasure and what does not.

    Rate yourself and your spouse on the following questions based on your degree of satisfaction:
    Not at all Satisfied                      Sometimes Satisfied              Very Satisfied
                1                        2                              3                        4                        5

    1. Are you satisfied with how your spouse expresses affection for you during the day?
    True lovemaking is a 24/7 endeavor. It doesn’t just happen at night and in bed. Acts of kindness and affection during the day can build closeness and desire. Of course if you’ve been a grouch during the day, it’s hard for many spouses to quickly turn the mood around.

    2. Are you satisfied that your spouse cares for you above all others (even your children) and would never do anything to intentionally hurt you?
    Lovemaking is an act of total self-giving – no strings attached. If your spouse isn’t confident of your total devotion, it’s hard to be vulnerable and lay bare your insecurities about your body, sexual prowess, or embarrassment. Let your spouse know you cherish him/her.

    3. Are you satisfied with how you can talk about difficult subjects, not only sex?
    Being handsome or beautiful is not essential to good sex. The most important sex organ is the mind. It can overcome physical limitations. Sharing your feelings honestly but gently with your spouse can bring you closer and make your bond strong, not just physically but also emotionally.

    4. Are you satisfied with the environment in which you have sexual relations?
    Although sometimes it’s nice to be spontaneous about where and how you have sexual relations, it often builds desire to have a conducive environment. Making the effort to create a private space and a romantic atmosphere shows the priority you give to each other.

    5. Are you satisfied with the frequency of how often you have sexual relations?
    Frequency of sexual intercourse often changes as we age. It is not unusual, however, for spouses to differ on how often they want to have intercourse. This can be a delicate balance to achieve. It’s important to realize that the frequency of intercourse is not a measure of love but may be biologically based. (See Not Tonight Honey for more on this.

    6. Are you satisfied with who initiates your times of sexual intimacy?
    Don’t get in a rut. It’s a turn on for your spouse to know that you want him or her sexually.

    7. Are you satisfied with how you spend your time leading up to intercourse?
    Expectation and creating an environment conducive to lovemaking can make the experience fuller for both of you.

    8. Are you satisfied with how your spouse touches you during love making?
    Is there anything you would like your spouse to do more of, less of, or new? Don’t let shyness or “we’ve always done it this way” limit your full expression of physical love. Sometimes even small changes in your routine can bring freshness to your physical intimacy. It’s OK to be clumsy. Remember, you’ve put your total trust in each other and this is private.

    9. Are you satisfied with the frequency with which you reach orgasm?
    Although men almost always reach orgasm, women’s response to sexual stimulation can vary. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel if you don’t have an orgasm and explore if there are ways to increase the frequency of orgasm.

    10. Are you satisfied with the way you feel right after you make love to each other?
    Just as men often become sexually aroused more quickly than women, so too men’s passion wanes more quickly after ejaculation. Since women’s arousal diminishes more slowly, attention to this time of “after glow” can help satisfy both partners more completely.

    11. Are you satisfied with the care your spouse takes of his/her body to make yourselves appealing to each other?
    Hygiene, weight, grooming, etc. are both a matter of health and a sign that you care enough about your spouse to put the effort to please each other. It’s not a matter of objective looks but how you look at each other. You honor your spouse by honoring your own bodies, to be given to each other.

    12. Are you satisfied with the way you’ve decided to plan your family?
    Sometimes concern about becoming pregnant or methods to prevent pregnancy can interfere with free and comfortable lovemaking. Family planning is a decision you must make mutually and support each other.

    The most important part of this quiz is not your final score but the discussion that it prompts between you.
    • Review the questions where you both marked 4 or 5 and rejoice that you are relatively satisfied with the ways you’ve developed to express your love sexually.
    • Review the questions where you differed by more than 2 points and discuss what might cause those differences.
    • Review those questions in which one or both of you marked 1 or 2. In a private, gentle way, discuss what you might do to increase your satisfaction.
    Self:____     Spouse:____

    Remember that each sexual relationship is unique. You are not comparing yourselves to what the media portrays as normal or what your friends imply they do. What’s important is that you are satisfied with each other and trying to please each other as much as possible. For inspiration you might want to read The Song of Songs from the Bible. You might be surprised how much scripture honors the beauty of the human body and the passion of loving spouses yearning for each other physically. Christians believe that God is a partner in the creation of human life, “and indeed it is very good.” (Genesis 1:31)


    For Families

    After the excitement of summer vacation begins to wear off, a frequent complaint from children is, "I'm bored." What's a busy parent to do? One solution is to check out the "Summer Job Jar" listed above because a bored child can certainly be called upon to help out with household chores. If it's too late in the summer to set up such a routine, (or if you're already doing the job jar) another option is to offer a Reading Challenge. (No video games please.) Here's how it could work:

    Challenge your childre to read _x_ minutes a day (5 minutes for every year might be a guideline, thus a 10 year old would read for 50 minutes). A trip to the library could kick start your challenge. In fact many libraries have programs like this that you might want to attend.

    Use some kind of chart to keep track of your child's reading and agree upon a goal of how many minutes/hours are reasonable for your child to shoot for until school begins.

    Agree upon a reward for reaching the goal, but also agree that time will be subtracted for each time he or she complains, "I'm bored."

    Let your child see your own enjoyment of reading throughout the summer too. This gives both of you some down time and can jump start some interesting conversations.


    For Couples

    Couples don’t have to have similar IQ’s or educational degrees in order to be intellectually compatible, but if one values the life of the mind and the other would rather just vegetate, it decreases satisfying couple conversation – the heart of intimacy.

    Circle the response (Agree, Both, Disagree, or Unsure) that best fits you.

    1. I like to play games that stretch my mind (cards, Scrabble, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, puzzles…) more than games that are based mostly on luck (Twister, Bunco, The Ungame, Bingo…)
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    2. I like to read and listen to public radio more than to do physical activity.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    3. I like to attend cultural events (plays, operas, museums) more than popular movies or concerts.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    4. I prefer classical and jazz music to rap, pop or easy listening music.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    5. I like analyzing/talking about a book, movie, or play rather than just enjoying it and letting it go.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    6. I read for recreation more than information.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    7. When my spouse* and I play intellectual games, we’re usually pretty evenly matched.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    8. I know enough about my spouse’s work that I can listen sympathetically and understand the basics.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    9. I feel comfortable socializing with my spouse’s work colleagues.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    10. I’m decent at reading maps and can find my way around a strange city.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    11. When assembling a toy, piece of furniture, etc., I can usually do it in a reasonable time, without any parts left over, and without cursing.
                Agree                       Both                  Disagree                Unsure

    Bonus Questions:
    12. I know how to defrag a hard drive, get my e-mail remotely, use my cell phone for more than phone calls and photos, and network home computers.
                Yes to all 4             3 out of 4            2 out of 4             1 out of 4            none

    13. I know how to tell the difference between:
          A. a cherry tomato and a grape tomato
          B. an allemande and a gypsy
          C. a stallion and a gelding
          D. a V6 engine and a straight 6
          E. a sonnet and an epic
          F. Advent and Lent
          G. a child’s moody cry and a crisis cry
          H. a fact and a feeling

    On questions 1 – 11 if you:
    • Both circled Agree on most statements, you have a compatible Classic style of intelligence.
    • Both circled Both on most statements, you are a couple for all seasons, very eclectic.
    • Both circled Disagree on most statements traditional intellectual pursuits are not important to    you. This has nothing to do with how smart you are but rather your intellectual tastes.
       Of course it could also mean that you are so laid back that you might want to take your pulse.
    • Both circled Unsure on most statements, you have trouble making up your mind or making    decisions. This is a marital concern of a different kind but can be equally annoying.
    Disagree with each other on five or more responses, you may feel disappointed or irritated    with each other’s intellectual style. One of you needs to lighten up and the other tighten up on    intellectual pursuits lest you succumb to IDD (Intellectual Deficit Disorder).
    Disagree on #10 or #11, that’s fine. You can make up for the other’s deficit as long as you    don’t gloat.

    On Bonus Questions, #12 and #13:
    Questions #12 and #13 point to different kinds of intelligence beyond traditional styles. See who has technical intelligence or:
    A. food/gardening intelligence
    B. dancing intelligence
    C. animal intelligence
    D. automotive intelligence
    E. poetry intelligence
    F. religious intelligence
    G. parental intelligence
    H. relationship/communication intelligence

    *The term spouse is used for simplicity. If you are dating or engaged just substitute boy/girl friend or fiancé/fiancée.


    For Families
    (Nature Deficit Disorder)

    Reading to children is good. Academic teams are good. Teaching our children good nutrition, self-discipline, and delayed gratification is important. BUT, sometimes we just have to encourage them to get outside and play. Richard Louv originally coined NDD (Nature Deficit Disorder) in his book Last Child in the Woods. Is your child at risk?

    Take the VOGT NDD quiz below. Although you may have to adapt it to fit the age of your child, consider whether your child (and your whole family) can do the following:
    1. Does your child get outside for free play at least a half an hour a day?
    2. If your child is of school age, can he or she identify:
        • one bird (other than a robin),
        • one leaf (other than a maple),
        • one rock (other than a gem stone), and
        • an insect (other than an ant or spider)?
    3. Has your child ever made mud pies, sand castles, or a fort in the woods?
    4. Can your child go a day without using an electronic gadget (phone, computer, video game…)?
    5. Does your family ever go hiking in the woods? (At least once a season is good.)
    6. Has your family ever camped – in a tent, not a motor home?
    7. Does your child know how to safely make a campfire (without an igniting fluid)?
    8. Has your child ever grown something from a seed?
    9. Have you ever laid on the ground and tried to identify stars with your child?
    10. Can your child identify poison ivy and poisonous snakes?

    Bonus: Can YOU do all of the above?

    A resource: No Child Left Inside is a national movement that encourages environmental education.

    An activity: Why not try a Nature Scavenger Hunt. It could be a birthday, sleep over game, or just a fun family activity. Create a list of simple outdoor objects from nature. Invite the neighbor kids to form teams.


    For Couples

    It’s hard to stay connected with your beloved when you are separated by distance for a long time. “Long” may range from a week or two of out of town work to many months or a year in the case of military deployments or immigration difficulties. Following are some ideas gleaned from a creative newly married couple who have been separated for months while he worked in in Iraq and she in Florida.*

    You will need: a lap top computer and internet connection. Start with a theme and then just work with whatever you have. Once a week is nice but long distance relationships are subject to local conditions so you may have to be flexible.
    Hints from Mary Jane: “Two ways to make it special are to put something special in the background and to wear a special outfit. Music is good if it doesn't interfere with the conversation, or if it's a time to enjoy it together. Ladies, remember that guys are very visual and it's OK to look attractive. People may have different thoughts about how modest to be over the internet, but I think bathing suits and nightgowns are very appropriate. Dean likes it when I take one of the clips out of my hair.” Here are some ideas to get you started

    Beach Party: Props: umbrella, beach towel, small cooler, picnic items. Wear your bathing suits.
    Camping Trip: Props: sleeping bag, backpack, small Coleman burner, marshmallows, etc. Wear a flannel shirt or pajamas. Sing campfire songs
    Nature Walk: Location: On a deck, porch, or the yard is nice – as far as the wifi signal will reach. Props: collect samples of different foliage, or potted plants, or flowers. Discuss landscaping, likes/dislikes, nature facts, biology, etc.
    Birthday Party: Props: balloons, cupcakes, candles, etc
    Japanese Tea Garden: This was a "dinner date." I (Mary Jane) dressed up and pulled my hair back. I picked up sushi and decorated the backdrop with oriental looking flowers (silk from Hobby Lobby).
    Fashion Show: Props: runway music in background, different "collections" (formal, business casual, Christmas, swimsuit, lingerie – if you dare). Dean modeled his suits with different ties, and a few shirts.
    Kitchen/Cooking: Set laptop in the kitchen as you cook.
    Library: Prop: bookshelf in the background if possible. Preparation: go to the library and pick out a few books that interest you, then discuss them.
    Gym/Sport: Props: wear your exercise clothes and go through a set of stretches and exercises together

    Because separation by distance often also means separate time zones, one spouse can write a “Goodnight Email” which becomes a “Good Morning Email” for the other. It could become a daily or weekly ritual depending on your circumstances. Mary Jane says, “I usually write something romantic like in the biblical Song of Songs. We are still newlyweds so there is a lot of fire in our romance, but being apart, these regular words add fun, excitement, and anticipation."

    When I can think of something really brief when I first get up, I'll send Dean an FYI email. FYI is the subject line. It goes to his business e-mail so that he knows that I'm awake. It is brief since it is interrupting his work day. It can be "suggestive" but somewhat covert. We have acronyms like WYWH, for wish you were here.” For example:
    • "I just woke up dreaming that I was waking up with you. I think I'll go back and finish dreaming."
    • "You are one handsome, dude, young man. (just thinking about our last G-chat)"
    • "I'm ready to go back to bed. How about you?"
    • "I miss you. I want to wrap my arms around you."
    • "Hi, my name's Mary Jane. Can Dean come out to play today?"

    Try reading and praying together. Take turns doing it live on Skype or share emails about your reflection on a book you’re both reading or a prayer.

    *Thanks to Mary Jane and Dean Sinclair for most of these ideas.

    PS: Some of the general principles of Skype dates could apply to keeping in touch with far flung children or grandchildren too.


    For Families
    CAN YOU EAT ON $4.50 (or $6.25) a DAY?

    In 2011, $4.50/day (or $31.50/wk.) was the average food stamp allotment for about 49 million Americans. (Update: in 2024, it is approximately $6.25/day accounting for inflation) Could you do either amount? I’m pretty frugal and my husband (who does the cooking in our family) is a careful and health conscious grocery shopper. We decided to try to do it as part of the Food Stamp Challenge. I am passing the challenge on to my readers. We’re going to start on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Our goal is to do it for all of Lent, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my health for an awareness raising experience. It may be that we only do it for a week if we find it insane and unhealthy to continue. Here are some preliminary questions that we will need to address:
    1. Can we supplement with food that we already have stored in the house?
        Hmmm, probably not (or only minimally with staples like flour, sugar, and salt), if it is to be a true experience.
    2. What about eating out?
        That would probably blow the budget in one meal.
    3. What if people bring us food, invite us over for dinner, or offer a snack at a meeting?     We’ll have to find a way to calculate that in.
    4. What about eating while traveling?
        Eating is so much less expensive when you cook it at home.
    5. What about economy of scale?
        Cooking for two means we have $9/day to spend. Cooking for six means we have $27. Food goes further when you can buy in bulk.

    Lent may be too long. Heck, we may find that one week is too long – or too complicated to keep track of food expenditures. For an ordinary family it may be enough to try it for one day. Whatever you do, it will be enough if your heart and wallet become more open to the reality of our fellow Americans – and those are just our neighbors close to home. Let me know if you try it.

    Follow my blog or Twitter for weekly (sometimes daily) updates starting February 15.


    For Couples

    1. When I’m behind a slower driver:
         A. I relax. I’m in no hurry
         B. I feel sympathetic since I assume the driver is elderly, cautious, or lost.
         C. I feel irritated and pass as quickly as I can, even on the right side.

    2. When leaving for a party:
         A. I’m relaxed but I’m also late. It doesn’t bother me. Does it bother others? That’s their problem. Life’s too short to hurry.
         B. I’m always ready ahead of time and leave 5-10 minutes early in case there’s heavy traffic or bad weather.
         C. I’m more or less ready when we agreed to leave but in no hurry since parties are not meant to start at a precise time. (Let’s assume this is not a surprise party.)
         D. I have good intentions to leave on time, but generally find myself scurrying around at the last minute while my spouse waits impatiently at the door (or worse, in the car).
         E. Both of us are frantically racing at the last minute and our friends have taken to telling us parties start an hour before the actual time.

    3. When watching TV or some other mindless activity:
         A. I relax and enjoy the down time.
         B. I schedule screen time so it doesn’t interfere with work or other priorities.
         C. I make sure I can multitask (fold laundry, nurse a baby, knit, etc.) at the same time.
         D. I never watch scheduled TV. I tape or TIVO everything so I can skip thru commercials. When I do watch TV I multitask and check e-mail during the slow parts.

    4. When on a car trip, but not doing the driving:
         A. I chat and enjoy the scenery.
         B. I nap to prevent being tired later.
         C. I’m busy taking care of children’s needs or navigating for the driver.
         D. I make cell phone calls, work on my laptop, check traffic reports, or listen to NPR to maximize my time.
         E. I do almost all of the “D” items at the same time.

    5. When leaving to catch a plane:
         A. I pack the night before, leave plenty of time to get to the airport (accounting for the possibility of an unseasonable blizzard in July), and plan to arrive more than one hour before flight time.
         B. My philosophy is JIT (just in time). I calculate when I need to leave for the airport in order to be there one hour ahead of time. (Glitches hardly ever happen anyway and I don’t like to waste time waiting.)
         C. I’m usually hectically gathering my stuff and doing last minute chores until I must leave. Then I search for my car keys, call my cell phone to find out where I last put it (It vibrates in my pocket.) and rush to the airport.
        D. I consider being at the airport an hour early a waste of valuable time. Sure, I cut it close and have been known to miss a flight, but life is an adventure. When on the plane, I always have my trusty laptop to catch up on work.

    6. When waiting in line (at the supermarket, the bank, a bus stop or metro, etc.)
         A. I’m bored.
         B. I’m fine. I figure waiting time is praying time.
         C. I fidget and feel annoyed with people who dally, chit chat, or have more than 10 items in the quick checkout line.
         D. I try to calculate the fastest line, switch back and forth if necessary or just leave and decide to do my errands at a less busy time.

    A answers = 1 point
    B answers = 2 points
    C answers = 3 points
    D answers = 4 points
    E answers = 5 points

    6-12 points: You’re either very laid back or very cautious. Unless your spouse has a similar style, you may be causing each other stress. Look for compromises.
    13-19 points: Your timing may not always be perfect, but at least you’re in the sane and practical range.
    20-25 points: Whoa! If not headed for a heart attack, you’re at least headed to stress your spouse and miss smelling the roses. If your spouse has a significantly lower score, you might also head for counseling.

    *The term spouse is used for simplicity. If you are dating or engaged just substitute boy/girl friend or fiancé/fiancée.



    For Families

    Technology like computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices can be both a blessing and a curse. How you use these modern conveniences is a challenge for families and requires honest discussion and family rules. Following are issues that parents and children should talk about in designing your family’s unique policy for using technology.

    1. Computer Time limits

    Computers and the internet can certainly help with school or jobs. Too much recreational time looking at a screen, however, robs us of human interaction, physical activity, and contemplation that are good for mind, body, and soul.

    2. Computer location

    Computers that children use should be in a common area – not their bedrooms.

    3. Social networking
    (Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Linked In, etc.)
    • The minimum age to be on Facebook is 13. (You can lie about your age but remember that others may be lying about who they are too.)
    • Anonymity can prompt people to lie and be ruder than they would be in person.
    • Think before you post. Would you want your grandmother, a college admissions officer, or a future employer to read it? You can’t take it back.
    • Is social networking depriving you of face-to-face human interaction? A computer can’t hug you back.
    • Don’t play with strangers. Children should know not to give out identifying information (name, age, address, school, etc.)
    • Parents, help your child set up any social networking site, be your child’s “First Friend. Insist on knowing any passwords. Periodically check in.

    4. Cell phones
    can be a valuable safety tool and are great for keeping in touch, BUT families need to decide:
    • At what age should a child be allowed to get a cell phone for calls/texting?
    • Data plans (like those on smart phones) are not appropriate for children. It’s not necessary for safety.
    • Who pays for the phone?
    • Talking on the phone or playing games should not trump the live people around you. No phones at meals, while having a face-to-face conversation, or after bedtime.

    5. Everything else
    (TVs, DVDs, video games, movies, music)
    The rule of thumb for use of most technology it that it should:
    • Be respectful
    • Not substitute for healthy human interaction
    • Not be a time hog
    • Not pre-empt outdoor or physical activity
    • Not break the bank

    Note to parents:
    The bottom line for healthy use of technology in the family is that you have to know your child. Some children need strict rules while others have earned your trust over the years. Educate your child about the dangers of the internet and be a partner with your child in developing family rules. Become tech savvy enough yourself that you know how to set “Parental Controls,” know how to check website history, and use a filter if warranted. No technology, however, can substitute for a healthy relationship with your child. Kids can get around anything if they really want to. Check www.netsmartz.org for more depth. Click here for a handy handout for parental reflection.


    For Couples

    The time leading up to Christmas (Advent) can be a time of reflectiveness and joy, but our expectations (and those of our family and culture) can also leave us physically stressed, emotionally exhausted, and in adversarial relationships with the ones we love most. With some forethought, however, couples can minimize stress and experience the time both before and after Christmas as a time for strengthening family relationships.
    Consider the following suggestions, then talk to your spouse and agree on a plan. Keep expectations realistic. What limits do you want to set on the time, money, and energy you spend?

    1. Invite other family members to participate in decisions affecting them? (For example, don’t just declare that this year we’ll draw names for gift-giving or presume that everyone will gather at your home for the main Christmas meal.

    2. Which Christmas rituals from your family of origin do you want to continue? Which from your spouse’s family? Are there new ones you’d like to create?

    3. List two things you could do to make your spouse feel less stressed and more loved.

    4. What gift would your spouse really appreciate? It need not cost money. Perhaps a gift of time (like a coupon to teach computer skills or take over a dreaded chore) would me more meaningful than another sweater. Best to agree that you’re both going to do a “creative gift” ahead of time, however, lest it backfire.

    5. Are there any holiday triggers that have caused problems in the past? Consider overuse of alcohol, feeling pressure to prepare a special meal, keep the house clean, put up decorations, money worries. Share the concern and plan a way to deal with the potential problem.

    6. Share the burden of preparing for Christmas. Which jobs do each of you like to do? Which do neither of you like doing? Can some be eliminated and the others shared.

    7. Is there a lonely person you could invite to share the season with you?

    8. If you visit relatives, what behavior patterns that cause stress should be avoided?

    9. Decide how much money you want to spend on gifts and celebrating. In the true spirit of Christmas, consider making one of your gifts a donation to a worthy cause. (For example, our own family has decided to sponsor a partial scholarship to those graduating from our children’s high school.)

    10. Give yourself a time-out. It may be a quiet evening when you agree not to talk about Christmas preparations and just rest in the Advent season of waiting, or simply a pause before dinner when you light an Advent candle and sit in the dark for a moment.


    For Parents

    Fears, anger, and feeling overwhelmed are negative emotions that can paralyze both adults and children. First, consider whether the fear is imaginary or real.

    1. Imaginary or exaggerated fears
    If it is simply your imagination stirring up fantasy fears or unfounded anger, talk yourself down from your emotional overkill.
    • “This is not likely to happen and I can’t do anything to change it anyway.” Repeat.
    • Then force yourself to think of something else that’s happier or takes some mental energy like solving a computer problem, practicing a foreign language, praying.
    • Give children factual information and a comfort toy to focus on. For example, if they are afraid of the dark use a night light.
    • Sometimes it helps to exaggerate the fear so that it is comical and everyone can laugh at it.

    2. Real fears and justified anger
    If it is a fear grounded in reality or an anger prompted by a genuine injustice, take action.
    • Taking an action step to fix a problem helps us feel more in control. For example, if you’re afraid that global warming will damage the environment for your children’s children, get involved in an advocacy group or at least recycle and drive a fuel efficient car. If you are angry at a politician, work for a candidate you can support or at least donate some money. If you are afraid of economic insecurity, reduce your consumption and structure your job search so you are doing at least one action toward getting a job each day
    • If children are afraid of a bully, help them learn self-defense. This might be learning to talk their way out of a dangerous situation, building self-confidence by taking a martial arts class, changing a friendship group, or rearranging the route to school. Talking to school officials about a serious problem can show your child you care and that others are on their side.
    • If children are afraid of generalized violence like terrorism, assure them that such extreme dangers are rare, BUT if some tragedy would happen you have confidence that they have the courage inside them to face it. Then point out to them small times they have acted courageously and that you have confidence that your family could recover.

    3. Fear and anger can be our friends – not welcome friends, but necessary ones. Often these emotions alert us to bad situations that need to be faced and not just avoided. ACTION is the best antidote.

    4. “In the face of escalating violence, let us escalate love.” Our friend, Jim McGinnis coined this phrase as a way to deal with the evil, fear, and problems that surround us. They are good words to live and die by.


    For Families

    1. What is your most prized non-human possession?

    2. How does it bring you joy?

    3. Be grateful

    4. What’s your spending personality?
        Frugal                                                                                                Spendthrift
             1          2          3         4          5           6          7         8          9         10

    Thoughts to ponder:
    We make ourselves rich by making our wants few. –Henry David Thoreau

    We’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. –Jimmy Carter, 1979

    If you keep your food in a refrigerator, your clothes in a closet; if you have a bed to sleep in, and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75% of the people in the world” –The Miniature Earth.

    When someone steals another’s clothes we call him a thief. Would we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; The coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; The shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person who has no shoes; The money which you hoard up belongs to the poor. –St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, c. 365

    Decision Time
    1. What can I (we) live without?
    Car    Washer/Dryer    A/C   Microwave    TV    Computer    Cell Phone    Dishwasher   Other
    2. Is it better to save the earth or to save money?
    What would you be willing to pay a higher price for because it’s better for humanity or the earth?
    3. Is there one thing I am willing to give away this week because someone else needs it more than I do? ___________________________
    4. Would any (all) of us be willing to limit our spending for a day, week, or month (or during Lent) to help people who have less than us?
    If so, how will we do it and what cause will we give the money to?

    Resources on consumerism
    • Surviving Hard Economic Times by Jim & Susan Vogt. Email susanvogt1@gmail.com for revised text.
    Click here for Money in the Kingdom of God by Susan Vogt, Bible study.


    For Couples

    Home based for one couple:
    1. Something alive, besides you

    2. Something hidden

    3. A book or pamphlet on marriage

    4. A plant that needs water

    5. A word of wisdom
    He: ___________________________________________________________________
    She: ___________________________________________________________________

    6. Something new about my spouse that I didn't know before:
    He: ___________________________________________________________________

    7. A fond memory of a special time together:
    He: ____________________________________________________________________
    She ____________________________________________________________________

    8. A scripture about love or marriage (The Biblically challenged may want to Google marriage/scripture.)
    He: _____________________________________________________________________
    She _____________________________________________________________________

    9. A wedding memory
    He: _____________________________________________________________________
    She: _____________________________________________________________________

    Community based for a group of couples:
    1. Something from a favorite date place

    2. Water (to refresh & renew you) in an earth friendly reusable container

    3. A snack (or insight about marriage) to share when you get back to Scavenger Central

    4. Something from nature that reminds you of your love

    5. Sporting equipment from an activity that you enjoy doing together

    6. Find a cemetery. Walk through it. Note name & date of a tombstone. ______________

    7. A scripture about love or marriage (The Biblically challenged may want to Google marriage/scripture.)

    8. A book or pamphlet on marriage.


    For Couples
    A super easy way to take stock of your marriage

    Respond to the questions below individually and then discuss your responses with your spouse. Be honest and “speak for yourself.” Don’t presume what your partner will say or try to guess the "best" answer. This isn’t a guessing game but a chance to take yet another step toward deepening conversation and growth in your marriage. Writing your thoughts down helps.

    1. Three things about my marriage that I like very much:

    2. Three things about my marriage that I think could be better:

    3. Three specific things that I personally could do to improve our relationship:

    With permission from: Better Marriages, P. O. Box 21374, Winston-Salem, NC 27120 • Phone 336-724-1526 • www.bettermarriages.org © Copyright


    For Families
    NEW YEAR'S PEACE (and Quiet?)
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    By the time New Year's Eve comes many families welcome the opportunity to stay at home and relax from hectic holiday activities. This Family Night may take place on New Year's Eve as an alternative to going out to parties. New Year's Eve also provides a longer stretch of time for the "game-a-rama" option. New Year's Day, or another time within the holiday vacation time, would also work.

    1. Book Option:
    • Pens, pencils, crayons, or markers
    • Six sheets of paper for each family member (to make a booklet) Put one of the following statements on each paper.
      #1 The happiest time for me during this past year was...
      #2 A regret (sadness) about something I did last year is...
      #3 One way I could be more at peace with myself during this next year is...
      #4 One way I could be more at peace with my family during this next year is...
      #5 One way our family could be a peacemaker in our neighborhood this next year is...
      #6 One way our family could contribute to world peace this next year is...
    • Stapler or hole punch
    2. Countdown Option:
    • Calculate the beginning time based on 3, 6, or 12 hours before midnight.
    • Sheets #1 and #2 from above
    • 12 slips of paper with a different month on each, i.e. sticky notes
    • Noisemakers (bells, whistles, pots and pans, etc.)
    3. Game-a-Rama Option:
    • Sheets #1 and #2 from above
    • Each family member chooses a game or activity for the family.

    Gather around a table. Light a candle as a reminder of God's presence and to emphasize the specialness of the time together. The leader then passes out the first two prepared sheets of paper and asks each member to think silently about how they would answer these two questions.
    Next, ask each person to write or draw their response on the appropriate sheet. Discuss your responses briefly.

    Choose one or more of the following:

    We've just finished remembering some good and difficult things about the year we are leaving behind, now we turn to greet the new year. Often people make promises (resolutions) about ways they want to become better people at this time of year. Also, often, these promises are quickly forgotten because change is hard. Tonight we're each going to make a personal book of resolutions for the new year. Having something on paper will help us remember our promises. Also, some of the resolutions may be actions that our family does together, so we'll be able to help each other.
    Although resolutions could be about anything that would make each of us a better person. New Year's Day is also widely celebrated as a day of prayer for world peace. This year, let's focus our promises on peace.

    Reading: Colossians 4:12-15 or Colossians 3:10

    Family Response:
    • Pass out sheets #3 and #4. Give a brief example, then have members write or draw the resolutions they want to make for #3 and #4 on the appropriate sheets.
    • Pass out sheets #5 and #6. Give a brief example, then have members write or draw the resolutions they want to make for #5 and #6 on the appropriate sheets. After discussion, hopefully the family can decide on joint actions for #5 and #6. Decide what steps it would take to carry out your decision and when you can do it.
    • Combine your sheets to make a book for each person. Staple or punch holes to attach pages. Make a cover and decorate it with symbols of peace (doves, rainbows, etc.) Agree on a place in your home to display the books so that they can be a reminder of your resolutions. NOTE TO LEADER: Since resolutions, by their nature, are often well intentioned but easy to forget, follow-up is helpful. Perhaps the first day of each month at a common meal could be a handy time to check in with each other about how the family is moving toward fulfilling the resolutions.

    Tonight we're going to use noise as a way to call us to remember important events that happened to our family during this past year. Noise is often seen as the opposite of peace as in, "I want some peace and quiet." Noise need not always be negative, however. Tonight, we'll make some joyful and happy noises of remembering.

    This option needs the Family Night to span at least three (and up to twelve) hours. Put sticky notes marking the 12 months of the year next to each hour on a clock. (If done in an abbreviated form, every 15 or 30 minutes could equal a month.) Choose a family member for each month. At the appointed time on the clock, the "January person" rings their noisemaker and calls everyone to interrupt whatever they are doing to come to a central spot. The family then calls to mind significant things that happened to them during that month. (Have the family calendar handy to prompt memories.) When this reminiscing has run its course, family members return to whatever they were doing until the next month's noisemaker calls them back. If the family will be staying up late, plan the intervals so that December's noisemaker rings at midnight.

    Decide how much time the family wants to spend playing together. Divide this time by the number of people in the family. Each person then gets to choose a game or activity they would like the family to do during their portion of the time. Agree that no request is too silly or dumb and that everyone home will participate. If this "game-a-rama" goes until midnight on New Year's Eve, celebrate with noisemakers. Sing "Auld Lang Syne" if your family is the nostalgic kind.


    For Couples

    Do you know your spouse’s:*
    1. Mother’s maiden name?
    2. Favorite pet as a child?
    3. Names of three high school friends?
    4. Name of first boyfriend or girlfriend (who of course was not nearly as attractive, intelligent,
        and funny as you)?
    5. Siblings’ birthdays?
    6. Parents typically handled disagreements?
    7. Favorite childhood TV program or movie?
    8. Award(s) received in grade school or high school?
    9. Way of being disciplined as a child?
    10. Mode of transportation to elementary school? (bus, car pool, parents, home schooled…)
    11. Allowance as a child and what it covered?
    12. Way of learning about sex as a child?
    13. First memorized prayer?
    14. Opinion about his/her religious education or lack thereof?
    15. Favorite childhood hero or saint?
    16. Family’s black sheep and why?
    17. Grandparents’ cause of death? (or great grandparents' if more appropriate)
    18. Family’s medical history, especially diseases that have genetic roots?
    19. Favorite childhood book?
    20. Favorite teacher? Why?

    *The term spouse is used for simplicity. If you are dating or engaged, substitute boy/girl friend or fiancé/fiancée.

    Although it can be fun to check how well you know trivia about your spouse’s past, knowing about your spouse’s family of origin (parents, siblings, relatives) can also be serious stuff. It can give you insight as to why he or she has certain habits or strong belief’s. The past does not determine the future but it can help you understand the present, and perhaps shorten some arguments.

    15-20 correct: You probably know your spouse well and have open communication about life.
    10-14 correct: Have a relaxing evening catching up on the past and reminiscing.
    5- 9 correct: What HAVE you been talking about? Maybe it’s deep stuff about solving the world problems, or maybe you just need to talk more. If you’re not yet married, make sure you know a lot more about each other before you take this step.
    0- 4 correct: OK, presuming you’ve just started dating, this is fine. If you’ve been together a long time, you’re in trouble. Is one of you hiding something or just non communicative.
    If your score is significantly different from your spouse’s, one of you has not shared much about your upbringing. This may be a cause for concern or just a poor memory. Check it out.



    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    You will need:
    Blindfolds (a long dark sock and large safety pin will do)

    Light a candle and quietly ponder the fire as a symbol of the "Light of Truth."

    Presentation of theme:
    Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln - great U.S. presidents - were known for their honesty. There is the well-known story of how George Washington cut down one of his father's favorite cherry trees and when asked about it replied, "I cannot tell a lie. I did it." (For very young children, act out this legend with puppets.) Abraham Lincoln was known as "Honest Abe" due to his reputation for fairness and honesty as a lawyer. Tonight we're going to explore what it really means to be honest - the costs and rewards of this virtue.

    Family activity: (Variation on a Trust Walk)
    The family divides up into pairs (oldest person with youngest, next oldest with next youngest, etc.) If there is an uneven number, one group can include three people. Partners choose one to be the leader and one to be the follower. The follower puts a blindfold on and sits down.

    Common instructions: The leader is to gently and carefully lead the other around the home or outside. The leader's job is to introduce his/her partner to many interesting and varied objects and sensations in the environment.

    NOTE TO LEADER: At this point the leader of the session calls aside the lead partners while the blindfolded partners remain seated. The leaders are instructed to mis-identify about half of the objects they have their partner touch., i.e. "This (rock) is a ball. This (apple) is an orange."

    When all return, the overall leader guides discussion along the following points:
    What did it feel like being blind? Did you feel safe? Did you trust your leader?
    What did it feel like to be the leader and to have the responsibility for your partner's safety?
    If you were blindfolded, were you aware that you were being lied to? If you were, how did that make you feel about your partner?
    If you were the leader, how did you feel, knowingly telling an untruth? Was it hard?

    NOTE TO LEADER: Make sure that very young children are told that the only reason the leader was allowed to lie was that this was the direction given only for this pretend exercise so that we could learn the difference between truth and lies. In real life, lies and dishonesty are wrong.

    Lies are wrong, not only because they are untrue, but also because they hurt people and relationships. It's hard to trust a person who's lied to you. Has that ever happened to any of us?

    Even though lying is hurtful and wrong, most people have been tempted not to tell the whole truth at least once. Usually, that's because we're afraid. We're afraid that we'll get punished or someone won't like us if we tell the truth. The truth is that in the long run we will get in bigger trouble and people will like us even less if they know they can't trust us to tell the truth. For example, if I lied about stealing some money from my boss, not only would I have to pay the money back, but I would probably lose my job too.

    Bring closure to the session by asking each leader to briefly take his/her partner back to the objects that were mis-identified (as much as s/he can remember) and correct the lies.

    Related scripture if desired: John 13:4-5, 12-17

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    Couples don’t have to belong to the same religion to be compatible spiritually – but it helps.
    Even those who do profess the same faith may have different degrees of commitment. Knowing what your deepest beliefs are and how your spouse is similar or different, however, is the start of becoming soul-mates.

    Mark Yes, No, or Unsure for the answer that best fits you . Then star anothre Yes, No, or Unsure for the answer you think fits your spouse or fiancé(é).
    Have your partner do the same. See how well you know each other and where potential tension resides. Then talk.
                                                                                                                                       Yes   No  Unsure
    1. I believe in God.

    2. I believe that Jesus Christ is God.

    3. I believe that Allah is God and there is no other.

    4. I don’t believe in a specific God but embrace a spiritual dimension of life.

    5. I was raised in a religious home.

    6. Organized religion is important to me.

    7. I think it is important to follow as many practices of my faith as is humanly possible.

    8. I think it is more important to follow the spirit of the law than it’s details.

    9. I believe in miracles, grace, and a loving God.

    10. I believe that there is sin and evil in the world and that God will punish transgressors.

    11. I believe in an afterlife.

    12. I find support and solace in prayer.

    13. Good music at church, synagogue, or mosque is important to me.

    14. Inspirational preaching is important to me.

    15. Going to church/synagogue/mosque is a sign of neediness and a weak mind.

    16. I see God in nature and the goodness of other people.

    17. I’m turned off by the hypocrisy of some institutionalized religions.

    18. I believe that working for a more just and caring society is an essential part of religion.

    19. I believe that working for a more just and caring society is a worthy substitute for religion.

    20. The “Golden Rule” is all one needs.

    21. I wish my spouse was more (or less) religious.

    22. My spouse and I regularly go to church/synagogue/mosque together.

    23. My spouse and I pray at home together.

    Bonus questions:
    The best way to spend Sunday morning is __________

    If my spouse and I have a difference of opinion about religion, it would be ____________

    Scoring: Total the number of questions on which both of you agree. If you agree on:
    11-23 questions – You’re of similar religious thinking and perhaps in the same pew.
    6-10 questions – You may be avoiding religious issues or are in conflict over basic beliefs. You have a lot of discussion ahead of you.
    0-5 questions – Religion may not be very important to you, but if it is, consider attending a marriage retreat together or talking with a pastoral counselor.

    For further resources on pursuing a spiritual life together see www.ForYourMarriage.org.



    Marriage has been around for a long time, but just as there are new perils from modern technology, we can use these same tools to strengthen it. First the perils. Did you know that:
         30% of married people deceptively use online dating sites.
         Pornography is more accessible than ever through the internet.
         Using a computer or surfing the net – even for valid purposes – can rob a couple of valuable face time and create an internet widow(er).
    BUT, did you also know that:
         70% of couples who both own cell phones, contact each other once a day or more, compared to 54% of couples who have only one or no cell phone.
         Telecommuting allows some spouses to work at home – at least some of the time – thus easing the struggle to balance work and home responsibilities.
         Purchases, errands, and research that used to take a lot of time driving around town, can now be done electronically thus saving time that can be spent loving each other better and caring for our neighbors.
    With technology bringing us such a mixed bag, take time to evaluate how you use the new tools that are now available. Here’s a self-assessment inventory to get you started.

    Cell phones:
    1. Do we use cell phones primarily for:
         Safety – Help, the car just broke down.
         Convenience – Honey, would you pick up some toilet paper on the way home.
         Connecting – Just want you to know I’m thinking of you while on this Hawaiian business trip
         Information – Where is the nearest gas station?
         Business – I’ll be arriving at your home to fix the refrigerator in the next 20 minutes.
    2. Are we happy with the way we use our cell phone(s)?
    3. Do we practice cell phone courtesy, i.e., not answering a call when talking to someone in person, silencing the phone when in a meeting, church, or public event, not annoying others on public transportation?
    4. Do we practice cell phone safety, i.e., not talking or texting while driving?
    5. Are we happy with the amount of money we spend on cell phone service?

    Computers and the Internet
    1. Are we satisfied with the location of the computer(s) in our home and the amount of time that each of us spends on the computer?
    2. How has the computer/internet been a benefit to our relationship? Has it ever been a bone of contention?
    3. What do we consider appropriate or inappropriate computer/internet use? Are chat rooms OK? If an old girl/boy friend ever contacted one of us, how should we handle it? Are computer games stealing time from our relationship? Are any sites off limits?
    4. Trusting relationships are built on transparency. Do we know each other’s user name and passwords for various accounts? Do we have an understanding that it would be fine for either spouse to browse through the other’s computer?
    5. Some couples use a photo of their spouse or family as a screen saver at work. Not only does this remind you of each other while you are apart but makes it clear to co-workers that you value your marriage.
    6. Just as families often stay connected by using services like Skype to communicate with far-flung children or parents, so spouses can Skype each other when on business trips.

    Social Networking Guidelines
    1. On sites like FaceBook, My Space, Linked-In, etc, set your relationship status to “married.”
    2. Share your user name and passwords
    3. Don’t make sarcastic or critical remarks about your spouse.
    4. Don’t friend ex’s.
    5. Don’t let virtual relationships become more important than the real, live, person you’ve committed to share your life with.

    Let me know if you have further suggestions. This list is still evolving.




    In a perfect world there would be no need for complaining. In the unlikely instance of a mistake, perfect people would be self-disciplined enough to avoid frivolous complaints. I’m not perfect and my husband and kids get tired of hearing my complaints. I know it’s better to look at the positive side of a person or problem than dwell on the negative, but I often find it hard to refrain from complaining. In my ongoing effort to tame this vice, I share with you what I’ve learned so far.

    Is complaining ever good? Answer: Yes.
    When a complaint to a person or company can bring about needed change
    When voicing a frustration can relieve tension lest it poison one’s attitude for the whole day. This venting can make us feel better and keep us from stewing about a problem.
    The trouble comes when complaints become too many, too often, and too self-destructive.

    That’s why I propose the following rules to keep complaining from taking over our lives.
    1. Follow the Rules for Gossip. Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? (See Gossip: To Tell the Truth for details.
    2. Apply basic communication skills. If after applying the “Gossip” criteria you still feel that voicing a complaint is valid, use the standard interpersonal communication skills.
    Use “I feel” statements, “I feel upset when you don’t call if you will be late.” (rather than “You” statements, “You make me so angry when you don’t come home on time.”
    Focus on one specific complaint – not everything that annoys you.
    Keep it in the present. Don’t bring up the past.
    Offer a solution. “I would like you to call when you might be late.”
    3. Don’t Repeat. At least don’t repeat a complaint more than twice. The person you are complaining to probably heard you the first time. They may not want to change or take action. Repeating a complaint more than twice doesn’t bring new information, it simply turns you into a nag. (Exception: When dealing with defective goods or services, persistence is proper. See the persistent friend, Luke 11:8) The next step is to go beyond words to action.
    4. Act. Often a complaint or worry can be diffused by taking action. If you’re concerned about a political issue, become involved in the political process, write a letter to the editor, become an agent of change. Don’t just complain, do something to fix the problem.
    5. Be civil but firm. If your complaint is about poor service or a faulty product, state your complaint briefly and clearly but without rancor. Remember that the person you are talking with isn’t your enemy and probably not the cause of your problem.
    6. Suggest a solution. Rather than just venting to a customer service person, suggest a solution such as, “What I would like is a 10% discount because of the scratch.” or, “I would like you to pay the postage for returning the defective product and sending me a new one.”
    7. Vent safely and moderately. Sometimes venting to another person, can be a step in letting a complaint go, but pick your person carefully and don’t overuse him or her. I vent to my husband who lets me know if I’m starting to repeat the same complaint over and over. If necessary ask someone to be a venting partner.
    8. Deflect other’s complaints. Try using a phrase like, “You might be right” when someone accuses you of a wrong. Of course, YOU might be right yourself, but often it’s not worth debating who left the water running. Just fix it and let go of blame.
    9. Reduce complaining. Find ways to complain less, e.g. commit to saying two positive statements before you allow yourself one complaint; or listen to two complaints from someone else for every complaint you make.
    10. Eliminate complaining. Rev. Will Bowen, a pastor in Kansas City, Mo., asked his congregation to give up complaining, criticizing, gossiping or using sarcasm for 21 days – starting with himself. People were given purple bracelets to remind them of their pledge and whenever they complained, they had to switch the bracelet to the opposite wrist and start counting the days from scratch. It took Rev. Bowen three and a half months to put together 21 complaint-free days. I’m still counting…but I’m not complaining.

    Each member thinks of a common complaint they have. (You make too much noise when you eat. You nag me about homework. The traffic is terrible. People around here don’t know how to drive in snow. This line is too slow. They don’t make cars, bikes, toasters, whatever, like they used to.)
    Each person then exaggerates his or her complaint, violating as many as possible of the Rules for Complaining, just for fun and to get it out of your system.
    Next, apply at least two of the Rules for Complaining to your complaint and test it out on another family member. The recipient gives you an Olympic style score between 1 – 10.
          Whiner                           Improving but still complaining                   Winner
             1          2          3         4          5           6          7         8          9         10
    If the complaint is against another family member, the accused person can consider whether he or she is willing to change the offensive behavior. It can’t be forced, but it is a gift of love to try to change a bad habit for the sake of another person. See The Pinch for ideas.

    For families with very young children (or whiners): An intellectual activity like this is likely beyond the skills of pre-schoolers. Teach your child not to whine by refusing to respond to whining. Say, “I will respond to you when you stop whining, crying, screaming, kicking, etc.” Then wait for the negative action to stop. You don’t necessarily need to then give your child what they want, but you can discuss a solution together.



    For Families
    You don't have to get on a plane to become more worldly.

    Globe (or map of the world if a globe is not available)
    Poster board or large paper
    Picture magazines that treat global issues (news magazines, National Geographic, etc.)
    Crayons, markers, scissors.

    Invite the family around the kitchen table or other gathering place. Place the globe and a candle prominently on the table in the midst of the letters, articles, or other resources mentioned above. Light the candle and sing a song like,"He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" as you pass the globe around the table.

    We are all one human family. Sometimes, however, we become so wrapped up in what we are doing and our own problems that we forget we are part of a global family with brothers and sisters of all races, religions and nationalities.

    Make a collage with the faces of people from all over the world. Title it something like, We Are One Global Family. Hang it prominently at home or in your church or school.

    Chex or other party mix.

    Related Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 26

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background


    For Everyone
    For people who have tried everything

    Traditionally Lent is a time to take stock of our lives, make changes, simplify, and do penance. Lenten practices typically range from:
    • Giving up candy to giving up complaining
    • Praying more to caring more
    • Donating money to those in need to accepting with humility that you are one of those people in need
    • and of course going to a fish fry

    This Lent is not typical, however, as our country and world are consumed with the economy. Some have lost jobs, others may lose theirs. All of us are impacted by the economic upheaval that is going on around us. Perhaps this is a Lent that you and your family could ask yourselves some tough questions about money, spending, and doing without. For example:
    1. What’s my spending personality?
             1          2          3         4          5           6          7         8          9         10
       Tightwad                                                                                            Spendthrift
       Do I need to reign in my spending or be more generous?

    2. What can I live without?
    Car? Washer/Dryer? A/C? Microwave? TV? Computer? Cell Phone? Dishwasher? Other?

    3. Is it better to save the earth or to save money?
    What would you be willing to pay a higher price for because it’s better for humanity or the earth?

    4. Consider fasting in a new way this Lent:
    • Fast from technology one day a week - spend face-to-face time with someone instead.
    • Fast from buying stuff one day a week (food and gas are allowed)
    • Fast from electrity one day a week or fast from light for an hour March 28 at 8:30p. See Earth Hour for ideas.
    • Fast from speed. Try slowing down and not racing to get things done or to get places quickly.    Spend some quality relationship time with your family and God.

    5. When you're not fasting from technology, try focussing on:
    The "Last 40"

    In order to keep our own needs in perspective, try praying for one of the 40 poorest countries in the world each day of Lent. The "Last 40" is a resource developed by the Marianists to make it easy. The feelings you have after reading the letters from someone in each day's country might not be so easy.
    The "Miniature Earth"
    This inspiring video clip helps us be mindful of our place in the world.


    For Families

    Rope or string, at least 5 feet long
    Paper clips or clothes pins
    Make four cards for each of the world’s major religions:

    1 CE.-33 CE
    Jesus Christ The Bible
    1300 BCE
    Moses The Torah
    (Old Testament)
    622 CE
    Muhammad The Qur’an 
    (The Koran)
    900 BCE
    Krishna Bhaghavadgita
    500 BCE
    Buddha Dhammapada
    1400 CE
    Guru Nanak Guru Granth Sahib

    If the weather is pleasant, gather outside in a circle and invite the family to gaze at the sky and contemplate how all of this came to be.
    If the weather is not so comfortable, light a candle and focus on it as the family ponders the source of life and power in our world.
    Do either of these activities reverently, in silence, for about one minute.

    It's important to know what you believe. It's also helpful to understand what other people believe. While we may be very committed to our own religion and see it as a positive force in our life, over the centuries, people have fought wars over whose religion was right. Regardless of how we personally understand God, it is important to respect the deeply held religious beliefs that are different from our own.

    Each of the world's major religions began with a person who believed he or she had been given Divine Revelation. The founder taught a few people and they started telling other people. Now each of these religions has millions of people in the world who seek the Divine, and use the Holy Book of that religion to guide their lives.

    Each religious tradition seeks to help its members understand the human experience and the nature of God. Learning about other religions can help us recognize what ideas are universal to all people who seek God, and what are unique and essential characteristics of our own faith. Maybe as we learn to understand and respect another’s religion, the differences will seem less important than the care we have for each other.

    1. Tie eight knots in a rope at regular intervals, at least 6" apart. Each knot represents 500 years with the first knot being 2000 B.C.E. and the eighth knot being 2000 C.E. The middle of the rope is year 0 C.E. Suspend the rope between two chairs or lay it on the ground.
    2. Attach the symbol cards to the rope at the approximate founding date of the religion.
    3. Take turns matching the Founder and the Holy Book cards to their religions.

    1. What do you like most and value about your own religion?
    2. Look up one of the religions that is different from your own on the internet. Can you find one thing that is similar to your religion and one thing that is different? (Google “major world religions” for help)

    Make pancakes. Use squeeze margarine or cake frosting tubes to draw symbols of the world's religions.

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background


    For Couples

    When you love someone, it seems so natural to communicate that love through words of love and actions of kindness. So why do so many long married couples gradually lessen this practice by taking each other for granted? We've said, "I love you" a thousand times. We figure our spouse should remember. We become complacent.

    Untended love, however, can wither and die. Keep your eyes open and look for opportunities to recognize the gifts and talents of your beloved. Don't keep your love secret or another, more vocal, secret admirer may take your place.

    When tempted to complain about your spouse, think of at least one positive trait that you admire and say it. "Honey, you know I love you" is nice, but not enough. Your compliment should be specific and true. If you find yourself repeating yourself every day, you're not looking hard enough.

    From Marriage: 12 Ways to Strengthen a Bold Promise by Susan Vogt.
    To order go to: www.creativecommunications.com and search on my name.


    For Couples

    You are probably courting or married because you enjoy having fun together. With time, however, interests can change or we can just get busy about life and not take the time to recreate together. Check your “Play Quotient” to see if you’re in the same ball park.

    Recreation Preferences:
    When it’s time to have fun
                             I prefer:                                                              My spouse prefers:
    1. Indoor              Either            Outdoor                        Indoor             Either             Outdoor
             1          2          3         4          5                                  1          2         3         4         5

    2. Sedentary       Either            Physical                       Sedentary       Either            Physical
             1          2          3         4          5                                   1         2         3         4         5

    3. Solitary            Either           Groups/Teams             Solitary          Either          Groups/Teams
             1          2          3         4          5                                   1          2          3         4          5

    4. Cooperative    Either           Competitive                  Cooperative   Either           Competitive
             1          2          3         4          5                                   1          2          3         4          5

    5. Intellectual         Either        Brainless                      Intellectual       Either            Brainless       stimulation                              relaxation                       stimulation                              relaxation  
             1          2          3         4          5                                  1          2         3         4          5

    6. Spectator        Either         Participative                    Spectator         Either       Participative
             1          2          3         4          5                                  1          2         3         4          5

    For Discussion:
    7. How much fun do you get per hour:
         How may hours per week do you typically spend recreating by yourself? _____
         (include fitness regimens, playing computer/video games, etc.)
         How many hours per week do you spend recreating with your spouse? _____
         If you have children, how many hours do you spend recreating with them? _____
    8. How much fun do you get per dollar:
         Is cost a factor in what kind of recreation you choose?
         Is it worth it?
    9. Couple time vs. individual time:
         Does your spouse spend a lot of time (more than one night a week) doing a hobby or
         recreation that you don’t share?
    10. What’s your favorite way to relax together?

    +1 point for each Recreation Preference in which you and your spouse differ by no more than 2.
    +1 point for each correct prediction of spouse’s response (within 1 point)
    +5 points for 6-15 hours of couple recreation per week
    –5 points for less than 5 hours or more than 15 hours of couple recreation (unless you’re retired)
    +5 points if you share two or more hobbies
    –5 points if you don’t share any hobbies
    –3 points if either of you regularly spend more than one night a week recreating apart from the family

    Total points:
    0 – 5 points: Take a break. You are at risk for being a dull, over-worked mate.
    6 – 15 points: Is your job so much fun that you’re counting it as play? Unless you’re retired, consider that you may be focused too much on your own pleasure. Look for ways to serve others during your discretionary time.
    16+ points: You probably have a healthy balance of fun, family, and work in your life.

    BONUS questions for discussion:
    The kinds of thing that makes me laugh are:
    Jokes, my own foibles, practical jokes, puns, comics, _______________________________

    When “Whatever you want to do, honey” is not really true, I'd rather:
    A. rent a movie                            B. go to a movie theater.
    A. go to a play, concert, dinner  B. stay home and play cards, a game, or watch TV
    A. watch a sport                           B. play the sport                 C. do something unrelated to sports


    For Couples

    1. Rate yourself according to your natural inclination to spend money:
        Tightwad      Frugal       Neutral       Generous       Spendthrift
             1                  2                3                  4                       5

         Rate your spouse:
            1                  2                3                  4                        5

    2. Rate your ability to put money into savings:
             1                  2                3                  4                        5

         Rate your spouse's ability:
             1                  2                3                  4                        5

    3. Circle the phrase that best describes your shopping style:
    A. Utilitarian (I go, I buy, I’m out.)
    B. Laissez-faire (When I see something I like, I buy it. I don’t plan for it, I just follow my whim.)
    C. Bargain Hunter (I check the ads. When something’s on sale, I snatch it, stock up.)
    D. Therapy (When I’m in a blue mood, buying something helps me feel better.)
    E. Recreation (I like to window-shop. I can spend hours shopping alone or with friends.)

    Star the phrase that you think best describes your spouse.

    4. Agree/Disagree?
    Separately mark if you Agree (A) or Disagree (D) with each of the following statements.
    A. It’s important to be frugal and thrifty with our money regardless of how much we make.
    B. I think that we should have a new car at least every five years.
    C. I’d rather put money into a house than take a vacation or other recreation.
    D. I prefer to handle paying the bills.
    E. It’s best to maintain separate checking or savings accounts.
    F. It’s OK to keep some “treat” money that my spouse doesn’t know about.
        (to treat myself or buy a surprise for my spouse)
    G. I think it is O.K. to maintain a balance due on a credit card.
    H. I think that we should pay cash for all purchases except a house or a car.
    I.   I think that a portion of every pay check should be saved.
    J. If money is tight, I would only buy insurance that is legally required, i.e. car & mortgage
    K. I think it is O.K. to gamble, so long as I don’t use the grocery money.
    L. I think it is O.K. to ask our parents for financial assistance.
    M. I think it’s important to have one parent at home when our children are young.
    N. I think that we should make regular gifts to charity.
    O. I think it is O.K. to fudge on our tax return; everybody does it.

    Compare answers with your spouse. Was your assessment of each other in questions 1, 2, and 3 accurate? Discuss the items you disagreed on in question 4.

    It’s not necessary to have the same spending habits, but it is important to know where you differ (especially if either of you are 1’s or 5’s on the continuum) since that is likely an area of tension between you. Sometimes differences are healthy since one spouse’s desire to save might “save” the marriage from financial recklessness. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be arguments about it.

    Questions 1 and 2:
    ____ total of your own ratings for Questions 1 and 2 (out of a possible 10 points)
    ____ total of your spouse’s ratings for Questions 1 and 2 (out of a possible 10 points)
    If your totals are separated by:
    • 3 or fewer points, you are very financially compatible, but check to see if your similarities are at the extremes since being too much alike can cause problems. Two tightwads may need to loosen up and spend some money having fun together. Two spendthrifts may need to cut up their credit cards or work with a financial counselor to develop a realistic budget.
    • 4 – 6 points, you’re on the same wavelength and hopefully balance each other out
    • 7 – 8 points, better see a financial or marriage counselor before you end up in bankruptcy or divorce court.

    Question 3:

    Question 4 (Agree/Disagree):
    ____ total statements for which you gave the same answer (except D)
    If you agree with each other on:
    10-15 statements, you have open communication about financial matters and similar financial values
    5-9 statements, you urgently need to discuss the items you have different opinions about.
    1-4 statements, a consultation with a credit or marriage counselor is long overdue. Make an appointment today. Contact: www.nfcc.org, for credit counseling or your local family life office for a referral to a marriage counselor.


    For Families - March 2008

    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    TV. VCR, or DVD player plus the TV schedule or an interesting movie.
    In advance, review the TV schedule and choose a show (or pick a movie) that has an issue or theme that might lend itself to discussion

    Popping a big bag of popcorn to eat during the show can set the mood for an evening of sharing.

    The leader gives a brief description of the show's theme and what to watch for.

    Network television is very nice to provide convenient breaks (also known as commercials) during which the family can discuss things. During commercial breaks discuss how the theme is being shown in the characters or through the plot. (Use the remote control to mute the sound to avoid distraction.) The following options might help get the discussion going:

    OPTION 1:
    Each person can select a character to be during the first commercial break. Watch how your character is affected by the issue being addressed. How does your character feel? What are your concerns, fears, joys etc? After the show the family might even want to stay in character for awhile and make up an alternative ending to play out.

    OPTION 2:
    Each person can imagine that they are the writer/director and try to guess what might happen at the end of the show. It is interesting to compare these predictions with how the actual plot unfolds.

    One suggested show is Star Trek: The Next Generation. It addresses many of today's issues in a non-threatening and interesting way. Even teenagers can get interested in it. Furthermore, Star Trek is in syndication so reruns can be found on almost any night.

    Note: The leader must be prepared to redirect the discussion if the theme turns out to be something different than expected. It is okay to shift to another theme or another show if necessary.

    Related Scripture if desired: Sirach 6:33

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, more readings, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Families
    MARTIN LUTHER KING and KWANZAA aren’t just for Blacks
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    • Summary of Martin Luther King's life. (Check the internet or library.)
    • Strips of red, green and black paper, ribbon, or yarn cut in 4"- 6" lengths, (2-4 per family member).
    • Kwanzaa kinara (candleholder) with a red, a green and a black candle. (Candle alternative: place three candles in candle holders and attach a piece of ribbon, yarn, or strip of red, green, or black paper around the bottom.) Place in the center of the table.
    • A single candle to be used for the opening and to light the others.

    Light the single candle and turn off a few lights. Enjoy the glow and discuss briefly what candlelight does to darkness. With young children sing a few verses of This Little Light.

    This Family Night uses the symbols of Kwanzaa* (an African American celebration of values) to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a great African American who taught people of all races about freedom and equality.
    Dr. King's birthday is observed on the third Monday of January. We honor Dr. King annually in order to remember the important things that he taught.
    Kwanzaa is observed December 26 - January 1 each year. In celebrating Kwanzaa, African Americans and others are reminded of their history and struggle. Kwanzaa is a time to keep African American families strong, to encourage people to work together for the good of all people, and to picture a prosperous future for African American children. All of these things were also important to Martin Luther King.

    Read a story about or a speech by Martin Luther King. As you read about his experiences, tell how you may have felt, or what you might have wanted to do, if you were in his place.
    Matthew 5:9-12, 14-16.
    Talk about how these verses relate to the life of Dr. King. In what ways did he bring light into his world? How did he let his light and the light of God shine? What happened to him as a peacemaker?

    Give an equal number of paper, yarn or ribbon strips to each person present. As each kinara candle is lit, a family member reads the appropriate introduction below, After each candle is lit, take turns telling a way in which Dr. King lived the words which were read placing the strips of paper, ribbon, or yarn at the base of the candle.

    Reader #1: "We light the black Kwanzaa candle to remember that Dr. King worked to create 'UMOJA'- unity in the family, community, nation, and race."
    Take turns naming things which Dr. King was able to change for people, such as desegregation of buses.

    Reader #2: "We light the red Kwanzaa candle to celebrate the 'KUUMBA'- creativity with which Dr. King worked to make his community and the world a better place."
    Tell unique ways in which Dr. King helped people to do that, such as creative ways of protesting without using violence.

    Reader #3: "We light the green Kwanzaa candle to remind us to keep our 'IMANI'- faith, as Dr. King encouraged us to hold onto our dream for ourselves and for our future."
    Name some rights and values which Dr. King believed belonged to all people.

    NOTE TO LEADER: These are only three of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. If time and interest warrant, the other four principles could be used in like fashion.* Conclude by each person choosing a colored strip and telling a way in which he or she will follow the example set by Dr. King. Keep the strip to remind you to follow through on your commitment.

    Close by holding hands and singing: We Shall Overcome

    Share red, green and brown M & M's. (Red and green fruit or vegetables could be served as an alternative. For example, slices of red and green apple or cherry tomatoes and broccoli flowerettes.) Mixing all the colors of food together signify how Dr. King felt that people of the world should be able to live together in harmony. The taste of the candy emphasizes the sweetness of achieving King's goals. Although each piece of candy is a different color on the outside, inside they are all the same. Color should not be used to determine the core value of a person.

    For pre-schoolers, focus more simply on the concept of light. Light the candle and talk simply about some of the ways Dr. King shone as a light. Light can help us to see in the darkness. Dr. King helped many people to see that everyone should be treated equally and fairly, regardless of the color of his or her skin.
    Deepen this experience with teenagers by discussing a few more questions:
    • In what ways did Dr. King die for an important cause?
    • In what ways did Dr. King die in vain?
    • How would your school be different if everyone valued what Dr. King worked to achieve?
    • In what way or ways would you be different if you acted on Dr. King's beliefs?

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.
    * For more information on Kwanzaa, see Just Family Night, Theme #60.


    For Couples

    Couples don’t have to always agree on what color to paint the kitchen but disagreeing on when to have a baby or whether both spouses should work outside the home are decisions of values and conscience. If it’s a matter of morality, the rule of thumb is to not violate the more restrictive conscience. If this becomes a pattern, however, check for scrupulosity.

    Circle the number that best reflects how much your care about the following moral issues:
    Don’t care                         Somewhat Important                      Very Important
    1                         2                            3                             4                        5

    1. Attending religious services religiously, i.e. weekly. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    2. Raising our children in faith. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    3. Have our children attend religious schools even if it’s a financial hardship. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    4. Having our children attend a religious education program if they don’t go to a religious school.
        1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    5. Donating a portion of our income (ideally a tithe of 10%) to charity. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    6. Planning our family in accordance with church teaching. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    7. Having one parent at home while the children are young. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    8. Paying our legitimate taxes even if others do not. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    9. Caring for the environment by doing things like recycling, avoiding excessive packaging, minimizing car use, composting… 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    10. Taking good care of my physical health through eating nutritious foods, exercising, not smoking, and avoiding excessive alcohol or drugs. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    11. Living simply, avoiding undo consumption and a luxurious lifestyle. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    12. Live within our means. If our means are great, then our moral responsibility is to use our excess to help others. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    13. Being responsive to my spouse’s requests for sexual intimacy. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    14. Being an active citizen, voting, working for political issues or candidates, doing volunteer community work, etc. 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

    Bonus questions for discussion:
    • What social and religious causes are you most passionate about?
    • Politics is grounded in many moral assumptions. What political candidate did you support in the last election? Does your spouse share your politics?

    Add up all your points. If your totals vary by:
    • Less than 15 points: Your moral compasses are very compatible. You may not always be right, but at least you share similar values. Consider if there are any moral issues that call you to become more generous or life-giving.
    • 16 – 49 points: Time to discuss the issues you differ on by more than one number. Try to
       balance rationalizing away differences with being overly scrupulous.
    • Over 50 points: You’re living on different planets. Talk with a priest or pastoral counselor soon.


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    You may want to time this session so it can include the dinner meal.
    Enough materials for each person in the family to experience a different sensory or physical disability such as:
    • blindfold (an old dark sock and large pin work well)
    • ear muffs, ear plugs, or cotton
    • tape for mouth
    • sling for an arm (or a rag that can approximate a sling)
    • crutches (or again, a rag could be used to tie up one leg)
    • mitten to cover a hand. Attach the thumb so it can't be used.
    • slips of paper, each designating a handicap: blind, deaf, mute, leg amputee, arm amputee, injured hand, etc.

    Carefully arrange the above items to be used on the table. Light a candle and have members silently ponder: If I had to choose a disability, what would I choose?

    Of course, people who have physical, mental, or emotional impairments never had the chance to choose their limitation. We can never know fully what it's like to walk in another person's shoes, to experience another’s disability, but lets try to sample at least a little of what some people in our society have to live with everyday – not just part of a day.

    Put all the disability papers in a basket. Each family member randomly picks one and then takes the corresponding disability item. The task is then to "stay in role" for a predetermined period of time. The length of time depends upon the ages of the children and the day's schedule.
    • Very young children may only be able to do this for about 15-30 minutes.
    • Families with older children can try it over a longer period of time, ideally including a meal.

    The family then goes about their normal activities until the time is up.

    When the time is up, gather and debrief what the experience was like for everyone.
    • What did it feel like?
    • Did any of the disabilities seem like fun in the beginning? If so, how long did it take for the glamour to wear off?
    • Did the particular disability I had make a difference? Would I have preferred a different one? Why?
    • What if I had a disability that was not physical, like an emotional or mental disability? Would that be easier or harder?
    • No one is perfect. In one sense all of us have disabilities, they just might not be as noticeable or severe as the kind we've just sampled. What is a limitation or disability that I really have?

    Why not make (or at least eat) a dessert using your less dominant hand – unless you're ambidextrous of course.

    Related Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:14-26

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights, Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    Circle A (Agree), D (Disagree), or U (Unsure) after each question. Compare answers.

    1. When getting ready for a trip:
         A. I pack for every contingency    A D U
         B. I take pride in packing compactly    A D U

    2. When getting ready for a trip:
         A. I am usually calm and ready to leave at the appointed time    A D U
         B. I usually scurry around, frantically throw things together, and still leave late. A D U

    3. When getting ready for a trip, I like:
         A. to have a plan, check maps and tour books, etc.   A D U
         B. to be spontaneous and flexible.   A D U
         C. to have someone else plan the trip for me or have a tour guide.   A D U

    4. What mode of transportation do you enjoy? (Circle all that apply.)
         A. Car    A D U
              a. It’s cheaper.   A D U
              b. I don’t travel far.   A D U
              c. We have kids and cars work best.   A D U
              d. I’m afraid to fly.   A D U
         B. Air    A D U
             a. Only if I can use frequent flyer miles.   A D U
             b. It’s quickest for long trips.   A D U
             c. I like watching the movies.   A D U
         C. Train/Subway   A D U
              a. It’s economical.   A D U
              b. It’s safe.   A D U
              c. It wastes less of the earth’s resources.   A D U
         D. Boat (a cruise, sailing, etc.)   A D U
              a. I like luxury.   A D U
              b. I like having someone else taking care of me, and the food is plentiful.   A D U
              c. I like water.   A D U
              d. I like shopping at the ports.    A D U
         E. I just like to go places, I don’t care how.   A D U
         F. I hate to travel, regardless of the mode of transportation.    A D U

    5. When on vacation, I like to:
         A. stay close to home (maybe a local cottage, nearby hotel, or just stay home). A D U
         B. do things the natural way (camping, hiking, outdoor activities).   A D U
         C. Do it “first class” (expensive lodging, entertainment) Vacations are a time to splurge.  A D U
         D. Travel to far off or unique places (different countries, or a different part of my country). A D U
         E. Have familiar surroundings and all the comforts of home. A D U

    6. When traveling by car, I like to:
         A. take frequent breaks to stretch, eat, go to the bathroom.    A D U
         B. push ahead to get to my destination as quickly as possible.   A D U

    7. When traveling by car, I like to:
         A. keep a neat environment (I always keep a litter bag in the car.)   A D U
         B. Get real! If I’m going any distance, it’s impractical to keep everything neat.   A D U

    8. When driving, I:
         A. generally don’t go more than five miles over the speed limit.    A D U
         B. either keep a radar detector in the car, or should.    A D U
         C. am very cautious. Many cars pass me.    A D U

    9. When traveling by car:
         A. I pack many diversions (books, CD’s, games, etc.)    A D U
         B. I’m fine as long as the radio works. I like it tuned to:    A D U
              a. music (What kind? __________)    A D U
              b. talk shows (What kind? _________)    A D U
              c. news or NPR.    A D U
         C. I like to talk or sing.    A D U
         D. I like to sleep.   A D U

    10. I prefer to:
         A. travel to one place, stay there, and relax.    A D U
         B. visit a lot of different places, see a lot, do a lot.    A D U
         C. visit relatives.    A D U
         D. visit friends.    A D U

    11. I like to travel:
          A. by myself.    A D U
          B. with my spouse.    A D U
          C. with my spouse and children.    A D U
          D. with a group of friends.    A D U

      Total all the responses on which you and your spouse agree.
      If you agree with each other on:
      40+ items: Happy Travels!
      11-39 items: Take this opportunity to practice compromise and negotiation skills.
      0-10 items: Consider separate vacations.



    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    Boxes or bags for collecting excess clutter, clothes and other items to give away.

    Invite the family around the kitchen or other gathering place. Light a candle and sing a song like "Simple Gifts."

    Living simply is not a simple task. It takes more creativity and more of our physical and spiritual energy than "buying into" our fast-paced, throwaway society. Let’s look at our living environment and let go of some of what clutters our life.

    Matthew 6:25-34

    Each family member finds two or three items around the house that he or she can't live without (i.e. teddy bear, iPod, computer). Examine the use of each item and discuss if these are wants or needs. What does our family actually NEED for survival?

    Take a tour of your home together. In each room look at what is lying around the floor (clutter). How do we take care of our belongings? What furnishings, knick-knacks, etc. unnecessarily "clutter" our lives?

    Look at the clothes in your closets and drawers. Do we have clothing or accessories we don't use anymore that someone else may be able to use?

    Collect clothing and other items we can give away.

    Are there families you know who need your extra clothes, etc.? Arrange to give them your surplus in a dignified fashion or donate the items to a charitable organization.

    Popcorn and apple juice

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    ENRICHMENT - For Couples

    Answer each question according to what you think your spouse would say. Then check with each other to see how close you are in interpreting each others words and moods.

    1. “I have a headache” means:
    A. I want to be alone.
    B. I want some sympathy and consolation.
    C. I need to know where you put the aspirin.
    D. I’d like some comfort food or a back rub.
    E. Don’t even think of suggesting we make love tonight!

    2. When I ask my spouse, “What’s wrong?” and the reply is “Nothing,” that means:
    A. Nothing is wrong. (This probably is not true and, therefore, wrong.)
    B. My spouse is feeling neglected or misunderstood and wants you to remember what you did to offend and then apologize.
    C. My spouse wants to be left alone to sulk or vegetate for awhile.
    D. She’s probably having a PMS moment.

    3. Your spouse looks at you with a gleam in the eye:
    A. Something good happened at work and he/she is anxious to share it.
    B. He’s proud that he has such a beautiful wife. She’s proud that she has such a handsome husband.
    C. Your spouse just had the lowest golf score of the year, the highest video game score, or won the lottery or _______________
    D. He’s hoping you’re in the same mood that he is in this evening. (Reverse pronouns if you like.)

    4. Your spouse snaps at you. He or she is probably:
    A. Tired and needs a nap.
    B. Upset about something that doesn’t involve you.
    C. Annoyed that you just beat him/her at a game.
    D. Defensive because of a criticism that you just delivered.
    E. Other _____________

    5. Your spouse is quiet and doesn’t respond when you walk in the room. He/she is:
    A. Just fine and enjoys the calm and solitude
    B. Brooding. It might be about you, but it might not.
    C. Bored or lonely and is waiting for your company to do something.
    D. Engrossed in thought or concentrating.
    E. Privately praying/meditating.
    F. Almost asleep. Don’t disturb.

    6. Your spouse is scurrying around, barking orders, and looks frazzled. He/she would probably like you to:
    A. Get out of the way
    B. Think of ways to help with the tasks that need to be done.
    C. Ask what you can do to help.
    D. Know that there’s so much to do because of something you forgot to do or your tardiness and is hoping for an apology.

    7. Your spouse is sick. He/she probably wants to:
    A. Be left alone.
    B. Have you run to the store for medications.
    C. Have you be solicitous, i.e. bring some juice, the paper.
    D. Have you nearby for company and conversation

    Scoring: If you accurately anticipated your spouse’s answer:
    5-7 times – You’re experienced in reading your spouse’s moods
    2-4 times – Don’t just guess, check out what your spouse really means and wants.
    1 time – Time for a communication class.
    * Correctly guessing your spouse's answer is not as important as the discussion you have as a result of it.


    ENRICHMENT - For Couples

    Why do adults who are normally reasonable and mature, believe that if they only repeat a complaint to their spouse often enough, that the spouse will change. Such nagging doesn’t work with kids and it’s even more destructive to a marriage. Following is an exercise to help you stop nagging. Its success depends on your willingness to give up one gripe.

    Many of us have probably used the phrase, “Honey, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, would you please not – chomp on your ice cubes, leave the toilet seat up, criticize me in front of your mother… If indeed you’ve asked your spouse more than several times to stop a behavior, chances are he or she will not be more likely to change if you simply keep repeating the request. Usually what follows is resentment.

    You have several options:
    1. Find a new and creative way to motivate your spouse to change. “Honey, every time you have ice in a glass and DON”T chew on it, I’ll give you a massage, we can make love, whatever.”
    2. Decide that in the whole scope of life and love, the infraction is rather minor and you will choose to live with it. This choice means you must give up the urge to remind and nag on this particular issue.
    3. Continue to frustrate yourself and annoy your spouse by repeating the comment.

    Assuming you choose the middle ground (#2), here’s how it works. Simply choose one annoying habit that your spouse does and decide that you will never again nag him or her about it. This has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of your spouse’s action or your continuing desire for the irritating behavior to cease. It just means you’ve let go of the job of complainer/corrector on this one issue. Although this exercise can be done at any time of year, you may find that Lent is a fitting time to start giving up a pet peeve for the sake of the marriage. You can tell your spouse of your decision – once – if you like.


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    Note to Parent(s): The primary activity for this Family Night is a long range project of watching a garden grow. For those who just can't wait, Option 2 provides more immediate results.

    • paper and crayons or markers
    • garden tools
    • paper for mapping out the garden
    • calendar
    Option 1:
    • vegetable seeds (beans are fast-growing)
    Option 2:
    • seedlings or bedding plants

    As a family, make a mini "pilgrimage" to a space prepared for planting. Spend a few moments just quietly looking over the area and imagining what you might plant where and how it might look as it grows. Sing: "The Garden Song" (aka "Inch by Inch, Row by Row"). Return to the gathering place in your home.

    We're going to start an experiment to find out how things grow best. It'll take quite a while for our study to be complete and it'll take some work. But growth is often like that - slow and often hard.

    Mark 4: 3-9

    Do one or both of the following before actually planting your seeds:

    1. Draw a picture.
    It's always fun for young children to draw pictures of flowers, trees, the sun, birds, etc. depicting spring. This can be fun for almost any age, even if they're too young to make the flowers look like flowers.

    2. Make a map of the garden.
    While little children are drawing, parents and older children can plot on paper where things will be planted. Allot two rows for your special experiment seeds. It helps develop some understanding of planning, choices, how things fit in relation to each other. Young children can decorate the borders, or glue pictures of what's planted, etc. Older children can make the whole thing. The maps can make colorful wall hangings in the kitchen, on the refrigerator, or in their bedroom.

    OPTION 1:
    Plant your experimental seeds according to the following directions:
    Row 1: Plant according to directions on package
    Row 2: Plant simply by scattering the seeds on top of the soil in this row and perhaps putting a few seeds loosely under a small amount of dirt.

    When the planting is complete discuss the plan for the rest of the experiment:
    • Let the seeds grow. Check them daily.
    • See that the first row is watered according to the instructions if there is not enough rainfall. Do  not water the second row. It should depend solely on rainfall.
    • Monitor and record on a calendar when and how the beans begin to grow.
    • After the beans have begun to grow two or three inches,
          a. transplant some beans by carelessly pulling them up and put them in another location.
          b. take some other seedlings, dig them up carefully and transplant them in a location
              that has been prepared to receive them.
    • Continue to monitor and record the growth of all the bean plants for the remainder of the growing season and note the different results.

    OPTION 2:
    IMMEDIATE RESULTS ACTIVITY (for those who just can't wait.)
    Plant seedlings that are already growing. You could also plant seeds at the same time and see how long it takes the seeds planted to catch up with the seedlings.

    Later in the summer, after you can see some differentiation in plant growth, the family could either have a follow-up Family Night or more informally discuss the differences in growth.
    For example:
    Look around your own city, town, state and other parts of the world. Note the similarities to the two rows of beans. People who are not properly cared for or nurtured from pre-natal care through their growing years suffer similar fates, i.e. there may be some who make it, but most never grow and develop into the healthy, productive people they could have been.

    Similarly, people who may have started out with the proper care and nurturing, but then are uprooted recklessly without regard to their health and well-being also have a harder time becoming healthy, productive citizens. However, those who are uprooted, but carefully transplanted and properly nurtured thereafter may lag in development, but are still able to overcome the trauma they suffered.

    Ideally have something homegrown. If nothing is ready buy some fruit at a farmer’s market.

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights, Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    In some families one or more members may not be aware of their national origin due to adoption, slavery, or a mixed background. In this case, choose a likely or favorite country to adopt and explore its culture.

    •Several candles
    •Mementos of your own family's heritage (i.e. songs, clothes, pictures, artifacts, food, etc.)
    •A list of the last several generations of your family
    • Invite the oldest relatives you have living nearby to join you.
    • Borrow from library:
    The Relatives Came, Cynthia Rylant - Bradybury Press, 1985, ages 3-9.
    The Keeping Quilt, Patricia Polacco - Simon and Shuster, 1988, ages 5-10.

    Light a candle.

    Matthew 1:2-16 (Summarize if the genealogy is too long to keep the attention of the children.)
    The Relatives Came or The Keeping Quilt

    Ask each person to quietly think of their own grandparents (or, if they can remember, their great grandparents). Picture what they look like. Are there any typical sayings you associate with them?

    Tonight we're going to take a step back in time and try to get a taste of what it might have been like to live 100 or more years ago - about the time when "my grandma's grandma" was a child. To get back to that time we're going to work our way back generation by generation. Hopefully, we will not only experience what life was like in a more primitive time, but also learn some of the unique heritage and customs of the countries from which our ancestors came.

    1. If you don't already have a chart of your family tree, make a simple one. Talk about each individual as you put his/her name down.
    • Are there any interesting family stories about their lives, idiosyncrasies, sayings, values, personalities, etc.?
    • Are there any physical resemblances to particular relatives?
    This exercise will probably take you back to somewhere between 1850 and 1900.

    2. To complete your travel backward through time, transform your home into a typical 1850 - 1900 dwelling. If you know the kind of life circumstances particular ancestors were living in at that time, try to approximate them. If not, use the following guidelines:
    • No computers or compact discs, DVD’s, I-Pods (not common until 1990's)
    • No VCR's, microwaves, or video games (not common until 1980's)
    • No cassette tape recorders (not common until 1970's)
    • No T.V.s (not common until 1950's)
    Now it gets a little harder:
    • No talking movies (not common until 1930's)
    • No automobiles (not common until 1920's)
    • No refrigerators (not common until 1920's)
    • No electric stoves (not common until 1910's)
    • No indoor plumbing (not common until 1910's)
    • No electric lights, telephone, phonograph, or anything run by electricity (not common until 1900's)
    A list of inventions with dates can be found in The World Almanac under Science & Technology.

    3. Decide as a family how far you would like to go back in time. (I recommend a pre-light bulb decade for greatest effect.) Then take a slow walk together through every room in your home. At each room pause and take stock of what would be different in the time you selected. What items weren't invented yet? What items would look different? As you leave each room turn off anything that would not have been common. When you get to the final room (probably the living room) settle in for an evening in your time warp. Assuming you have chosen a time before 1900 (when electric lighting was not common) you will need to place candles in several secure places. If you have a fireplace it would be nice to contemplate what it would be like for this to be your primary means of heating and cooking.

    4. Spend the remainder of the evening exploring your ethnic heritage, being as faithful as possible to the lifestyle of your decade.
    A. Parents or grandparents may describe ethnic artifacts and talk about their use or meaning. (Examples: Irish lace, German beer steins, Ukrainian Easter eggs, African ivory, etc.)
    B. Tell stories about what life was like in the "old country", or at least a generation or two ago in your own country.
    C. Ethnic songs could be sung. (Remember that records and tapes were not invented yet, much less CD’s.)

    In exploring the family's heritage teens may delve into issues like:
    • What are some stereotypes of people from your ancestral country? (Examples: Latin lovers, stubborn Germans, stoic Slavs, alcoholic Irish, dumb Dutchman, Polish bowlers, sly Chinese, shrewd Jewish)
    • How do you feel about these generalizations?
    • Is there any truth to them?
    • What are some positive characteristics for which your nationality is known?

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights, Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    It takes a lot of pinches to cause a bruise. Usually a little, one time, pinch does little harm, but the accumulation of many pinches irritate the skin and leave a mark. And so it is with marriage too. That thoughtless remark or act when repeated –especially once you know it irritates your spouse– can eat away at the relationship. The big marriage breakers (infidelity, addictions, abuse) often have their seeds in the terrible trifles. These build to the point where one partner ends up saying, “I just don’t feel love for you anymore.” Nip the pinches in the bud by:
    • Identifying the pinches unique to your relationship
    • Gently and lovingly request that your spouse work on eliminating ONE pinch. (One will do for a start. Let the rest go for now.)
    • Be willing to eliminate ONE pinch that annoys your spouse.

    Following are some examples to get you started:
    1. You forget to tell me about an evening meeting.
    2. You say you’re just going to check e-mail, but don’t get off the computer for an hour.
    3. You talk to me while I’m on the telephone.
    4. You talk to me from another room.
    5. You leave a mess in the bathroom.
    6. You don’t ask me what is wrong when you know that something is bothering me.
    7. You make light of a problem I tell you about.
    8. You leave the gas tank empty in the car.
    9. You come home from work and are irritable with the children because you are tired.
    10. You remind me of something stupid I did in the past.
    11. You are often not ready on time.
    12. You sometimes pay more attention to the newspaper and TV that to me.
    13. You repeat something I’ve told you in confidence.
    14. You sometimes don’t listen to me when I am talking.
    15. You forget to do something I’ve asked you to do.
    16. You start a job but you don’t finish it.
    17. You tease me about my cooking in front of others.
    18. You keep putting off that weekend alone you promised.
    19. You drank the last coke or ate the last Klondike bar.
    20. You let the kids eat all my peanuts.
    By Marcy and Ralph Reed, Association for Couples in Marriage Enrichment (ACME) lead couple
    Adapted and used with permission


    For Parents

    In the summer most families welcome a more relaxed schedule. As vacation starts for most students, however, it doesn’t take long before “I don’t have anything to do” becomes an all too frequent refrain. One summer sanity strategy that I wish I had started earlier is a “summer job jar.”
    I’d think up about 50 simple jobs and put each on a strip of colored paper in a jar. Each week day children picked one job to do before dinner. If they didn’t like the first one they could pick another, and delay the original job till later.

    I skipped Sundays because that should be a day of rest anyway. I also skipped Saturdays since that was our traditional “clean up your room day” and we might have weekend outings. Put in a few surprise fun things to do also just to keep it interesting.

    Most jobs probably shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes to keep it from being too burdensome although some could be more major. The job jar did not replace regular year round chores like setting the table or feeding the dog. If your child is old enough, brainstorm ideas together.

    It’s easier to start a custom like this when children are young and still think you’re the boss, but we started it when our youngest was about 10. It probably worked because his best friend’s family also did it. There’s strength in numbers.

    A family outing at the end of summer might be a nice way to celebrate everyones’ work. Here are some possible jobs that you might want to use.
    Outdoor jobs:                                           Laundry jobs:
    • water the plants                                        • match socks
    • mulch                                                         • fold napkins and towels
    • weed a section of the garden

    Miscellaneous jobs:                               Fun jobs:
    • make dessert                                           • play a game with Mom or Dad
    • dust a room                                              • tell the family a joke at dinner
    • read a story to a younger sibling           • play the piano (or flute, or drums) for the family
    • organize a bookshelf
    • plan a special grace for dinner
    • count all the books in the house


    Humor Your Spouse

    Humor adds to our marriage emotional bank account and allows us to tolerate or overlook offenses that might otherwise irritate. Well, OK, they still might annoy us but we’re willing to overlook minor things because of the overall fun and positive experiences we’ve had together. Cultivating humor in marriage is not the same thing as being able to tell a joke. Following are some kinds of humor you might nurture in your marriage. Think of ways that you “humor each other.” If you have any additional ways, let me know and I’ll share the best on this website.

    See your spouse with a new eye.

    1. Engaging in fun, lighthearted past-times together.
    Examples: playing games or sports together, watching funny movies or TV shows
    Question: What are our favorite ways to relax together and have fun?

    2. Inside or “running” jokes: Often these have to do with personal foibles that we can turn into jokes rather than continuing to complain.
    Example: When finding something I’ve lost, I’ll often say to Jim something like, “How clever of you to hide my credit card back in my wallet.”
    Question: What silly thing does my spouse do that I complain about? How can I change this into a lighthearted joke?

    3. Exaggeration: Often exaggeration of a problem or fault can turn it into humor.
    Example: Well, it could have been worse. You could have broken your arm, never found your way back, lost your purse AND wrecked the car.
    or “Could you walk a little faster. I’m not getting enough exercise trying to keep up.”
    Question: What trait or quality do you or your spouse have in excess? Play with ridiculous exaggerations of how that could be a boon for your marriage or society if it were multiplied 10 times.

    4. Hindsight stories (laughing at yourselves)
    Example: Once Jim and I had to wake our 13 year old at midnight to help us take our bedroom door off the hinges because we had locked ourselves INSIDE our bedroom.
    Question: What’s your favorite story of a marriage or family mishap that, looking back, you can now laugh at?

    5. Pranks/Surprises: These can backfire. Be careful.
    Example: “Honey, the babysitter just called and said she had to cancel for tonight. I’m afraid we’ll have to cancel our dinner reservations for our anniversary. Maybe we could just put the baby in the car and take a leisurely drive in the country. He’ll fall asleep and we can talk.” You then drive to a relative’s house who agreed to watch the baby for the weekend while you have a get-away at a resort (or even at home).
    Question: Have you ever tried a prank or surprise that backfired? Now you have a hindsight story to laugh about.

    Not all humor is funny to a spouse. Be careful about making fun of your spouse’s weight, haircut, pregnancy, or making fun of your spouse in front of others or behind his/her back.
    Example: It’s tempting when out with the guys or gals to join in a round of “Can you believe that “x” tried to put air in the car tires by blowing into the tire valve!”
    Question: What topic is my spouse sensitive about and I should avoid? Check it out.


    For Parents
    Bless Your Child Today

    "God bless you" is not just for sneezes. Bless your child today. If you think blessings can only come from ordained ministers consider yourself the “minister of parenthood.” Blessings can take many forms but the most natural (and simplest) one for ministers of the home are not formal prayers but prayers from the heart. Perhaps use the simple: “May God bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” You can add other spontaneous prayers for your child if you like. Adding a gesture like the sign of the cross or placing your hand on your child’s head emphasizes the sacredness of the time. Short rituals like this benefit from repetition. Blessing on a regular basis carries memories of past times and brings a moment of peace between you. Following are some times that you might want to bless your child.

    Even infants can be blessed as you put them down to sleep. In fact, blessing an infant may be more a prayer for the parent’s peace of mind than the child and it gives you practice. It can be a soothing conclusion to your bedtime prayer with toddlers and young children. Sometimes it may be the whole prayer. Older children may resist a bedtime prayer with you but sometimes simply putting your hand on your child’s head and silently blessing them will avoid awkwardness. Or let a bedtime kiss carry the message, “I love you and so does God.”

    Leaving the house:
    It may be a bit much for most families, but if you start the practice when your child first starts school, a “God bless you in school today.” can become part of your leave-taking.

    A natural and welcome time to bless your child is at a time of sickness as you add a spontaneous prayer for the child’s recovery.

    Times of crisis or transition:
    A big test is coming up, it’s the day of tryouts for the basketball team, the day of your teen’s drivers test, or your young adult is leaving for college. It’s not magic, but praying for God’s blessing can remind your child that you are carrying him or her in prayer during this special time and they can call on God’s aid in times of stress or difficulty.

    And don’t forget those sneezes.


    For Couples

    Marriage is a value laden and spiritual undertaking – even for those who are not members of an organized religion. If your faith is important to you, however, the marriage vows take on a special dimension as your commitment to each other becomes an expression of your faith, not only in each other but also in God.

    Following is an exercise to help you identify your most deeply held values and to check how closely they match up with your daily life. Sometimes we believe we believe something, but how we spend our time and money puts a lie to it. To have a happy marriage, couples need not share every interest BUT, it is crucial that they are in sync with their most deeply held values. If these values are generous, loving, and life-giving, a spiritual bonding will grow.

    Directions: Each partner takes time to reflect on the following questions and write your answers on paper. Read each other’s thoughts, then discuss. Since this is a heavy topic, you might not want to do this exercise all in one sitting, but rather take a question a day, a week, or a month.

    1. What's most important in life to you?
    (This question is intentionally open ended to let your mind roam over all the possibilities.)



    What kind of time and money do you put toward these priorities?

    2. Covenant
    Reflect on when your relationship has not always been "fair" or equal. When has one of you been called to give more than your fair share? (For example: unequal schooling, incomes, physical abilities, illness…)

    3. Unconditional
    Is there any way that one or both of you have changed since your wedding day that's been hard to accept?

    Is there any change that would jeopardize your love? (for example: a change in appearance, personality, or mental health, infertility, loss of a job, infidelity…)

    4. Fidelity/Permanence
    Fidelity is more than just sexual, permanence is more than just not getting a divorce. What daily or frequent habits have you developed to nurture your relationship? (For example: eating together, a daily walk, checking in by phone or e-mail, praying together…)

    Has there ever been a crisis in your relationship when you have been tempted to give up on it? What helped you through it?

    5. Fruitfulness
    Has your love stretched you beyond yourselves? How? (For example: volunteer work, service projects, helping out in your neighborhood and community…)

    For those who have a child(ren) - How has your child stretched you to go beyond yourselves?

    6. Forgiveness
    Do you generally find it easy or difficult to forgive your spouse or yourself for shortcomings and mistakes?

    What has been a hard thing for you to forgive so far in your marriage?

    What does forgiveness look like in your marriage? For example: Do you say, “Please forgive me.” and “I forgive you.”? Do you make amends? Do a favor? Hug? Give flowers? Make a bowl of popcorn?...

    7. Prayer
    How do you feel about praying? (Neutral? Curious? Inexperienced? Committed?…)
    Do you want to pray?

    Do you want to try praying with your spouse?
    How do you feel about praying with my spouse? (Nervous? Embarrassed? Wistful?…)

    Do any of the following styles of prayer appeal to you?
    ____ memorized prayers
    ____ reading inspirational books
    ____ meditation - (open)
    ____ guided meditation
    ____ prayer services/rituals
    ____ rosary
    ____ scripture reading
    ____ inspiration from nature
    ____ I'm a crisis prayer
    ____ other

    For ideas and a jump start on praying as a couple read Who Me? Pray with Her?


    Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8

    We wait for the mail, for the rain to stop (or start), for our birthday, for a loved one to return home, for results of a medical test, for a trip to start, or a wedding day. It’s hard to wait. And it should be so because waiting is part of the experience. If everyday was your birthday at first this would seem wonderful but eventually you would find the thrill diminished as a special day becomes everyday. If the rain stopped or started at your command at first it would seem idyllic and convenient, but part of the joy of beautiful days is knowing that they are not always that way. We need to pay attention and savor it. If we never had to wait for a loved one to return, would the arrival be so cherished? Would the wedding day carry such power if couples did not have to wait for it?

    But our culture tries to rob us of the joy that comes from waiting – especially during Advent. Stores celebrate Christmas before its time and many of us are sucked into celebrating Christmas with parties and festive homes before the actual feast. Perhaps we need to take our lead from pregnant women. In the quiet, dark womb, growth is taking place both physically and emotionally. The mother starts to change her habits and mindset. For the reflective mother, there is also spiritual growth as slowly she lets go of control over her body and her desires and realizes that motherhood is a long process of sacrificing self for the good of another. But this waiting is not only internal. Responsible parents prepare the home. We buy baby supplies, prepare a space, and perhaps prepare siblings for the upcoming birth.

    So too, it can be with Christmas. As the pregnant world waits for Jesus to come again into our midst, we need quiet, dark, internal growth, but that doesn’t mean we need be inactive. Preparing the home gradually; buying gifts so that we will be ready; keeping it simple lest stress crowd out our calm are part of active waiting. Yes, waiting is hard, but it makes the longed for event more momentous. Let the first day of Christmas be truly the first day of Christmas and not just the last day of the Christmas shopping season. Let us wait.

    Some questions for your reflection/discussion:
    1. When has it been hard for you to wait for something good?
    (For example: a birthday, the results of a test, a driver’s license, graduation, a vacation, retirement, a letter or package in the mail, a visit from a friend, your wedding day, pregnancy. Parents might also include waiting for a child to walk, talk, stop fighting, grow up, leave home, come home, get over an illness…)

    2. Is there anything I need to let go of to make room for Christ to live in me?
    (For example: anger, worries, fears, pride, a person I’m upset with, a grudge)

    3. One step that I could take to simplify my Christmas preparations and gift giving is…

    4. In addition to my immediate family, is there anyone that I could go out of my way to bring joy to or lessen the burdens of during Advent?

    This meditation by Susan Vogt is also published in “Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway? – 2005”
    published by Alternatives for Simple Living,


    For Couples or Parents

    Have you ever gotten a gift that just wasn’t you? Once I sent my husband flowers as a sign of my love. I was proud of myself because I realized what a nice surprise it is for me when he has done that and I wanted to please him. I also thought, “Why should flowers be reserved just for females? Certainly men would enjoy them too.” Wrong! He was gracious, of course, but the quizzical look on his face told me that he didn’t quite get it, and I learned a lesson. I was trying to give him a gift that I wanted to receive, not what he wanted to receive.

    This got me to thinking about the Golden Rule, “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.” (Mt. 7:12) Certainly this is a generous maxim and helps us treat others fairly – as we would like to be treated. But are there times when the Christian might go beyond the Golden Rule to an even deeper selflessness? What if we revised the text to say, “Treat others as they would like to be treated.” Getting into another’s head and searching for what would bring them pleasure, even though it might not be what I would want, takes quite a love.

    For example, my son had a bad day at school – forgot his homework, got laughed at for a mistake, etc. My inclination was to talk it through with him. “How do you feel? Is there anything I can do to help you?” etc. His silence was off putting at first. After all, I was trying to give him what I would want. It took me awhile to understand that in this kind of situation he usually just wants to be alone, to escape into his head or a game. What I could do to help, was leave!

    On a marital level this sometimes plays out at times when I am feeling a lot of stress – usually from having too much to do in too short a time. Jim, being the sensitive husband that he is, rushes in to console me. He hugs me, holds me, kisses me. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’m not always too grateful. What I really want is for someone to do some of my work! Over time he has learned that he’ll get a lot further if he offers to take some of my chores off my hands. The hugging can come later. He, on the other hand, feels unloved if there isn’t a certain amount of physical affection. Offering to mow the lawn just doesn’t cut it.

    It’s hard to get into the habit of thinking this way because it doesn’t feel natural – to me. I have to put myself in the other person’s shoes and figure out what he or she would want. I find myself needing to curb that urge to drop in spontaneously on friends just because I enjoy that kind of thing. Come to think of it, isn’t that what Christ did when he became human – put himself in our shoes, in our flesh.

    Some Questions for Your Reflection
    1. What makes my spouse (or child) happy that would not work for me?
    2. How does my spouse (or child) like to be consoled when facing a difficulty? Is it the same or different from my needs?
    3. When I feel angry, how do I want the people around me to respond? Does my spouse (or child) like a different response?
    For further reading on this theme, see The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.


    For Couples & Anyone Who Cares About Truthtelling


    The woman behind me in church was singing beautifully…too beautifully. She sounded like a professional singer and wasn’t blending in. She held every note past the point the rest of the congregation had stopped. This annoyed me even though I knew it shouldn’t. Of course I couldn’t say anything to her. I didn’t even know the woman since this was a church I don't usually attend. But, as is often the case, I thought I’d ask Jim’s opinion on our drive home in the privacy of our car. And then I thought about truth. I thought about the maxim I had heard years ago – Don’t make comments to or about others unless it meets the following criteria:
    1. Is it true?
    2. Is it necessary?
    3. Is it kind?
    I evaluated. Yes, it was true. Although her singing was technically proficient, it was not “group singing”. Was it necessary that I comment on this to my husband? Not really. Was it kind? No. So I summoned up my resolve and realized that my urge was really an urge to gossip and make myself superior. I thought about all of this during the homily, which wasn’t particularly stirring that day, so I thought it was a good use of my time. I think God does speak to us at Mass, it’s just not always the way the liturgists planned it.

    As I continue to think about my experience, I realize that these three rules can probably be applied to most decisions about whether or not to hold one’s tongue. Although it would be best for questionable comments to pass all three, as the homily wore on, I decided that two out of three would be sufficient in most cases.

    Yes, the truth is always friendly, or almost always. It should indeed be the first criteria. And sometimes it might be necessary to deliver a message of parental or fraternal correction that isn’t particularly kind. “Son, the way you treated your sister was hurtful. I want you to apologize.” There’s seldom any debate about whether to deliver a true message that’s kind. It may not be necessary, but it’s always appropriate.

    Then there’s the situation of a comment that’s kind, and would be awkward to avoid, but might not be true, like “Yes, I really love your mother’s cooking.” Or, “Yes, that dress makes you look thin, darling.” These white lies, I can accept although technically they may not be completely true. So we’re back to trying to keep all three criteria, but no less that two – or hold your tongue.

    It’s tempting to criticize one’s spouse in the spirit of mutual improvement. Children often criticize, and make fun of others. So do their parents. Check yourself against these 3 criteria: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If not, it’s probably fault finding or gossip.

    Have you ever had an inner conflict over whether to tell the truth?
    Discuss with your spouse (or family) how each of you feels about “white lies” and gossip.


    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    Option 1: Dad’s or Grandpa’s old clothes, hats, shoes, ties…
    Option 2: several puppets
    Option 3: family picture albums

    Light a candle and think of your own father, grandfather or great-grandfather if you can remember them. Think of what qualities these fathers have that you admire. Also, are there “fathers” that are not related to you that you think do a very good job of parenting? Quietly think about these special men.

    Fathers come in many shapes, sizes, and kinds. Most fathers are good and loving to their children, but like all humans, no father is completely perfect. Tonight we're going to poke some good hearted fun at fathers and in the process we might even understand fatherhood a little better.

    Luke 11: 11-13 or Luke 15: 11-32

    Choose one or more of the following activities.

    1. Imitating Dad
    Everyone but Dad dresses up in the "Dad type" clothes that have been collected. Dad is the audience and his main job is to laugh heartily, clap loudly, and enjoy everything. Everyone else pretends that they are "Dad" and exaggerate his mannerisms and expressions. The only rule is that the acting must not be hurtful or bothersome to Dad.) When the frivolity dies down, close by each person completing the sentence, "If I were really a father the most important thing I would do (or be) is ____________________________________."

    2. Dad: Leading Man
    Everyone in the family but Dad thinks of a significant event in the family's life in which Dad had a major role. It could be something serious in which Dad was a protector or hero, or it could be something funny like a foolish thing he did. Once everyone has his or her event in mind, use puppets to act out the situation for Dad.

    3. Where’s Dad?
    Pull out the family's picture albums. Everybody makes a guess as to how many times "Dad" is in an album. Then play "Where's Dad" by finding and counting how many times Dad appears. Encourage lingering over pages that remind you of stories about Dad.

    After spoofing Dad awhile, discuss some of the following questions:
    • Are the qualities typical of fathers different from the qualities of mothers? If so, how?
    • Unfortunately, not everyone has a loving father. Their father might be dead, no longer present, or perhaps he just doesn't know how to be a good father. How can people in these situations learn to be good fathers themselves?
    • How are fathers portrayed in the media? Realistically? Stereotypically?
    • Not all fathers are the same. What would a father's life be like if he were a single parent? a step-father? a father with a disability? a father from a foreign country or culture?
    • Discussing grandfathers and great grandfathers can be a great opportunity to discuss some aspects of genealogy and a lesson in oral history from parents about their memories, experiences, family stories and even legends. Talk about best memories, funniest stories, etc.
    • Who are there people we know who act like a loving father to us (uncles, grandfathers, etc.)

    Dad's choice - whatever is his favorite dessert.

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights, Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    The leader asks everyone to form a large circle with lots of space on either side of you. Close your eyes. Lift one leg and try to stay balanced for one minute. (Everyone can count slowly together.) Half way through, open your eyes to see if it’s any easier with eyes open.
    After the silliness dies down, gather the family around a table and light a candle. Ask each person to think silently about: "What are all the different activities I'm trying to balance in my life right now?"

    The Spring Equinox (March 21) and the Fall Equinox (September 22) are the two days of the year when daylight and darkness are most equally balanced. Let's take some time to check out how balanced our lives are too.

    Are we too busy?
    A. Everyone makes a list of how they spend discretionary time (time not spent sleeping, eating, at school or work) If anyone has more than two outside activities (sports, lessons, clubs, committees, etc.) re-evaluate whether it is causing stress to the family system and should be put on hold. If the family feels really stressed, just pruning out unnecessary activities to allow relaxed, "empty" time at home may be the goal. If, however, it's been awhile since the family has had some fun together, share your enjoyable family activities and decide one you'd like to do today or soon. Schedule it. Do it.

    B. Ask each person to name an activity they really enjoy doing by themselves and one they enjoy doing with the family.

    Sing "Day by Day" from Godspell.

    Anything that comes in two equal parts (sandwich, cookies, popsicles) or can be divided in half and shared. (That's almost anything.)

    Related scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights, Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    One way that couples develop closeness is to share their feelings (not just their opinions and plans but also their emotions) with each other. Often sharing on this level comes more easily to one spouse than the other. Following is a way to get in touch with what each other really cares about and what joys and burdens your spouse is carrying. It doesn’t require much time (maybe 10-15 minutes). The only supplies needed are a small piece of paper and pencil. You can do it almost anywhere. Here’s how it works:

    1. Each spouse writes down 5-10 current or recent feelings they’ve had (in the last 24 hours). For example:
    • “Relieved” (that I met my deadline at work)
    • “Worried” (because one of our children had a bad day at school)
    • “Pleased” (that you agreed to do this sharing time with me)
    • “Frustrated” (because I couldn’t get rid of a computer virus today)
    • “Weary” (of picking up after everyone in the house)
    • “Joyous” (looking forward to a free weekend)
    2. One partner starts by sharing a feeling and what prompted it. Be brief. This is not a time for discussion.
    3. Alternate. The other partner picks a feeling to share and why until both are finished.

    Caution: This is not a time for discussion or solving problems, but rather simply listening and trying to understand what’s going on inside your spouse. If couples try to problem solve or get into extensive discussion about negative feelings, it can inhibit you from returning frequently to this practice. It is meant as a quick check in. Certainly if this exercise brings up an issue that needs further discussion, plan a separate time to address the issue.
    Some couples do this daily. Weekly is nice. Some just do it when they’ve been feeling distant or disconnected. This is a no guilt plan to deepen your love.

    Adapted from the SHARING TIME concept developed by David and Vera Mace of ACME (Association of Couples in Marriage Enrichment)


    For Couples

    1. A dream that I have for our future is...
    (This could be a fantasy that you don't really expect to come true but enjoy dreaming about, or it could be a hope that you’re committed to making come true. Either can revitalize your relationship.)

    2. Five years from now I imagine that our life together will be different in the following ways:
    (Consider things like having a child, having fewer children at home, different jobs, different home...)

    3. Write a one or two sentence description of your commitment to your spouse.
    (This might reflect a resolution you've made or it may simply be a statement of your love for your spouse put in your own words.)


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    NOTE: Although Advent is clearly a Christian season of preparing for the birth of Jesus, Non-Christians may choose to focus on "waiting" as a self-discipline which helps the family appreciate the value of delayed gratification and simplifying our lifestyle. Alternatively, Jewish families may find many of the concepts below applicable to preparing for Hanukkah.

    The Christmas season is already loaded (or overloaded) with activity and traditions in most American families. Our consumer culture has so appropriated this feast that even families that have no particular religious reason for celebrating Christmas, get very caught up in buying and festivities. Celebrating in itself is not bad but in the process of starting the Christmas season earlier and earlier (in order to encourage "shopping days") Christians often lose sight of the value of Advent – the season of waiting and preparing for the birth of Jesus. Even families who are not Christian, but share the season's values of bringing peace and care to our neighbors and our world yearn for a return to a simpler season. For these reasons this Family Night focuses on reassessing our Christmas activities and trying to return Advent to its original spirit.

    It is our assumption that most families already have a plethora of customs and the need is not so much to offer additional ones as to prune away burdensome ones and bring the focus back to a quiet "waiting" in the dark of the winter solstice for the light of Christ to be reborn.

    In the following family night I suggest several customs that help measure the "waiting time" such as the Advent Wreath, Advent Calendar, and Advent Chain. Use even these, however, with discretion, since the primary goal is to unclutter this pre-Christmas season in order to reclaim its true meaning.

    Some families make it a point to write Christmas cards, do Christmas tree decorating, parties and gift exchanges only on, or after, December 25. This is a laudable goal but must be balanced by the awareness that tampering with family traditions can be a risky business. If it's going to cause dissension or tension, better to be less pure but happy with each other during this season. Likewise, reducing and simplifying gift giving is also a worthy goal, but must be balanced by sensitivity to the feelings of those with whom we exchange gifts.

    For those unfamiliar with the symbolism of the Advent wreath:
    1. The circle is a reminder of eternity - never ending.
    2. The evergreens are a reminder of life that continues.
    3. The four candles stand for the four weeks of Advent. Purple candles are lit the first two weeks. A pink candle is added the third week to symbolize a joyful break in the solemn waiting. The third purple candle is added the final week.
    Thus, visually the family sees the gradual increase in light as we move closer to the feast of Christmas.

    Advent Wreath (If the family does not already have an Advent Wreath buy or make one by using three purple candles and one pink candle surrounded by evergreens shaped in a circle)
    Watch with a second hand for leader
    Large piece of paper
    Advent Calendar
    1" x 6" strips of construction paper
    Creche figures

    Assuming this Family Night is being done the first week of Advent have the oldest child light the first candle of the Advent Wreath. All sing the chorus to "O Come, Emmanuel". If the family does not have the custom of using the Advent Wreath, explain its meaning (see background.) Then, without explaining why, the leader waits and does absolutely nothing for exactly one minute.

    First debrief with the family what it felt like to have to wait: doing nothing, for one minute without knowing fully why or how long this would go on. Was there frustration, anger, silliness? Did people feel "antsy"?
    In its truest sense Advent is a time of active waiting for the birth of Jesus. This doesn't mean that we sit around and do nothing for the four weeks before Christmas but rather that we spend our time quietly preparing for this holy day. This is in stark contrast to our culture which hurries Christmas (and most holidays) by not only preparing for it but also celebrating it before its actual time.

    Luke 1:26-45
    "The $32 billion people in the U. S. spent last year on Christmas gifts does not include the larger costs of Christmas. Christmas has a great impact upon the environment. Consider the waste disposal costs of this spending binge, or the long-term costs of using irreplaceable natural resources for non-necessity commodities. A drive down the street on the first trash pick-up day after Christmas is a sobering reminder of the amount of waste generated in this celebration. Behind every pound of garbage at curbside, there are approximately 20 pounds of industrial or agricultural waste created in the process of production." from Looking Behind the Cost of Christmas. Milo Thornberry.
    Alternatives, P.O. Box 429, Ellenwood, GA 30049 (404)961-0102

    Tonight we're going to focus on how our family can keep the true spirit of Advent by learning to get better at waiting and by rethinking our Advent and Christmas customs so that they are in harmony with the Christmas spirit of peacefulness, stewardship and simplicity.

    1. On a large sheet of paper have the family list all the usual activities and customs your family does before and after Christmas. (Examples: get Christmas tree, decorate it, buy presents, bake cookies, put up lights, send Christmas cards, use Advent Wreath, get out creche scene, decorate house, have parties, exchange gifts, etc.)

    2. Go through the list and distinguish which activities are truly preparing (i.e. making, buying presents) and which are more celebrating (i.e. exchanging presents, parties) Mark a "P" next to preparing activities and a "C" next to celebrating activities.

    3. Go through the list again assessing the timing of the activities. Does anyone in your family feel stressed, overly busy, or hectic during Advent? If so, can you adjust some of your customs so that they are more consistent with a peaceful season of waiting?
    A. Consider spacing the preparing activities so that they gradually and humanely build toward Christmas. (i.e. First week set up the Advent Wreath, second week set up the creche scene, third week get Christmas tree, fourth week do preliminary decorating.)
    B. Are there any activities that you usually do during Advent that really are celebrating activities? Could you wait till Christmas Day or during the 12 days of Christmas to do these? Are there even preparing activities that you could wait to do until closer to Christmas? (Example: wait to decorate the tree and put up stockings until Christmas Eve.)
    C. Are there some activities that you do out of habit or duty that may be OK but add undue burden during Advent? (Example: Do you bake out of obligation or out of love?) Can you agree to eliminate any activities?

    4. Go through the list again and note whether there are any activities that serve people in need or contribute to peace in our world. If not, discuss how your family can share your resources with those who have less as a way of being faithful to the true spirit of Christmas. (Examples: make a significant donation to a charity, provide gifts for a family in need, go Christmas caroling at a nursing home, etc. Most churches and organizations offer plenty of opportunities for service at this time of year.)

    5. Can you all live with your family decisions? Post them in a prominent place in the house. If desired, the family can make the list more "artful" by putting a big star or Christmas tree in the middle of a large piece of paper with one side labeled "preparing" and the other "celebrating" and list appropriate activities on each side. Children could decorate the chart.

    6. Choose one or more of the following activities that can help the family measure this time of waiting.
    A. The opening Advent Wreath ritual itself may be sufficient since each week an additional candle is lit.
    B. Make or purchase Advent Calendar(s) so that a window can be opened each day.
    C. Make an Advent Chain by cutting 1" x 6" strips of multi-colored construction paper. Each night at dinner each person puts the name of a person or cause for which they want to pray on a strip. Staple together each day. By Christmas there is a chain of prayers to decorate the tree.
    D. Invite children to add a piece of straw to the manger each time they do a good deed.
    E. Ceremoniously unwrap each creche figure and together set up the creche scene in a place of honor.

    Something easy to prepare - no waiting; cookies, ice cream, etc.

    Activities are simplified adaptations from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994. See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.



    For Couples

    Unless one spouse is exceedingly passive or afraid to displease his/her partner, married couples will have disagreements. This is not bad; it is an expression of self-differentiation and identity. The challenge is to make these times of disagreement – emotionally difficult as they sometimes are – times of growth, not undue hurt.

    Following are five ways to approach your next disagreement. I call them the “5 C”s”

    1. Concede
    Although you may not be willing to “just give in” when you both feel emotionally involved in an argument, this works when one partner is NOT strongly committed to a position and it is more of a preference. For the sake of family harmony you might decide to freely bend your will to let your partner have his/her way this time. The conceder must be willing to not harbor resentment. For example, although both of you may want to visit your own relatives over Christmas, maybe it is more important to go to your spouse’s family this year because of a recent death in the family.

    2. Compromise
    This classic negotiation format is well known but often neglected in the heat of anger. Each mate gives up something for the sake of the relationship. For example, I’ll come and watch your softball game this week if you’ll join me in some recreation I enjoy (maybe a book club) next week.

    3. Chance
    Sometimes ways to compromise or take turns are not obvious or practical. If an evening of recreation cannot be split, you might just flip a coin, pick lots, etc. The key is for the loser to practice the self-discipline of gracefully letting go of his/her preference and not sabotage the decision by holding a grudge while ostensibly agreeing to it.

    4. Co-Existence
    When neither partner is willing to accede to the spouse's wish (even part-way or for a time) agreeing to disagree may be the best solution. Spouses keep their own opinion or desire and allow the other to do the same. This works when the decision is relatively minor or there is not enough time to fully explore options. Caution: Co-Existence is not appropriate when one spouse’s decision interferes with the partner’s freedom to decide. For example, couples cannot agree to disagree on whether to have a child, whether one should stop working, whether to move, etc. Life values and moral questions that impact each other must be resolved mutually.

    5. Create a New Possibility
    Spouses work together to brainstorm new options that neither one had thought of previously. This takes some energy and creativity but often is the most life giving option. Example: Instead of choosing whose relatives to visit at Christmas, invite everyone to your home, meet at a cabin in the woods, hold a videoconference, etc.

    Which one is best?
    One way to know which of these options to use is for spouses to independently rank how strongly they feel about getting their way on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being, I don’t much care to 10 being grounds for separate bedrooms)

    If one spouse is close to 10 (feels extremely strongly on the issue) and the other is closer to 1 (doesn’t much care) Conceding would be the gracious way to go. (The only exception to this is if there is a pattern where the same spouse consistently is at 9 or 10. This is just manipulation or selfishness and needs to be confronted.)

    If both of you are near the middle (4, 5, 6) consider Compromise or Chance.

    If both of you feel strongly (7, 8, 9, 10) consider Co-Existing or Creating a New Possibility.

    If neither of you care much (1, 2, 3) then you probably aren’t having an argument.

    Consensus is an additional option available to groups trying to come to a decision when there are conflicting opinions. After all sides of an issue have been aired and dissenting views heard, the leader takes a sense of the group and suggests the direction that seems to have emerged with the most support. Although it may not be everyone’s first choice or preferred way to go, if everyone can live with the proposed decision without serious reservations, a consensus is declared in order to let the group move forward. If there ARE still serious reservations the group continues to talk and test compromises until consensus can be reached.

    This model is adapted from the Growth in Marriage for Newlyweds program developed by Family & Children Services of Kansas City and the Association of Couples for Marriage Enrichment (ACME).


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights


    Light a candle and ask each member to take a moment to silently think about a relative, friend, or pet that has recently died. Think about the good they did and the joy they brought to us when they were alive.

    If this is done near Halloween, the leader may explain that the custom of Halloween is connected with the Christian feast of All Saints' Day. Halloween, or "Holy Eve" was the night before we remember the saints who have died.

    If this is done upon the death of a relative, friend, or beloved pet, merely comment that we are gathering to remember our love for ___________and to share our sadness now that s/he has died.

    Blow up the balloon and play with it for awhile. Talk about how fun it is and what color it is and how much we like it. Then pop the balloon. You are left with the physical shell, but the life, the fun, is gone with the air. The air from the balloon, however, is still in the room with us. When a person dies, we believe that his or her spirit is still with us. The body is dead and will be buried, but as long as we remember the person, part of them, like the air, is still with us even if we can't see them anymore.

    If it is a small pet that has died, hold a simple burial. Dig a hole in a corner of the yard, wrap the pet in tissue and place it in the hole. Before covering the pet with dirt, the leader invites everyone to say how the pet brought joy to our life and how much we loved the pet. If desired, a spontaneous prayer might be said asking God's blessing on the pet and on us in our sadness over our loss. Cover the hole and give comfort to each other.

    Depending on the nature of the occasion, the family may not be in the mood for a festive treat. If the death is not a recent one, however, and the family is in the mood, a bunch of balloons could be blown up to play with. Hollow candy or puff pastry might also be fun.

    Related Scripture if desired: John 12:24

    This activity is simplified from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.



    For Couples

    Please answer the following questions separately, then compare and discuss.
    Be honest

    1. How much money would I spend without consulting my spouse first?_____
    2. If I could buy anything, what would it be?
    My spouse?
    3. What is my favorite place to go out to eat? My spouse’s?
    4. If I could vacation anywhere on earth, where would it be? My spouse’s?
    5. What is my favorite movie? My spouse’s?
    6. What is my favorite reading material or book? My spouse’s?
    7. What is my favorite time of day? My spouse’s?
    8. Where is my favorite place to made love? My spouse’s?
    9. What makes me laugh? My spouse?
    10. When is my prayer time? My spouse’s?
    11. Household chores I despise. My spouse’s?

    12. My favorite thing to wear.

    What's my spouse say I look good in?
    13. What is my spouse’s shoe size? ______  
    14. What do I think we disagree about the most? What does my spouse think?
    15. What is my favorite “pig out” food? My spouse’s?
    16. What is my favorite leisure activity? My spouse’s?
    17. My favorite expression is… My spouse’s?
    18. Do we make love enough? _____ What would my spouse say? ____



    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    A hand puppet for each person in the family (socks with buttons for eyes can substitute)

    Light a candle while each family member silently thinks about "What do I generally get most mad about in our family? With whom do I fight the most?"

    Most people don’t have much trouble starting an argument. We want to get better at stopping them. Anytime people live closely together and lead a common life, there are going to be differences - different personalities, different opinions, and different ways of doing things. The problem comes when we let a fight or argument cause hurt - either physical hurt or hurt feelings. Let’s get better at fighting and forgiving tonight.

    What’s the beef?
    Thinks of a recent time you felt angry with another member of your family and maybe got into a fight. Invite everyone to let their puppet act out the situation using their own puppet and the puppet of the other person. It's OK to exaggerate the conflict a little for drama and humor's sake.

    Solving the beef
    After everyone has had a chance to act out their "beef", it's time to solve the beef. The leader asks for suggestions for the family's Rules For Fighting. List them on a large sheet of paper. The list may include such things as:
    1. No name calling.
    2. No hitting.
    3. If two people want the same thing and only one can have it, toss a coin or pick numbers. (The person closer to the parent's number gets it.)
    4. What are some agreed upon consequences that will happen when familiar fights erupt (i.e. no TV, time out, go to different rooms, no one gets it, etc.)
    5. Add your own.

    Display the list in a prominent place.

    Finishing the beef
    Invite everyone to use their puppets to replay their fight of a few minutes ago using the RULES FOR FIGHTING to get to a satisfactory resolution.

    Forgiving the beef
    At the end of each pair's skit, the two members take off their puppets and the leader asks if they feel they can ask for and offer forgiveness. Complete with a hug.

    NOTE TO LEADER: "I'm sorry that you feel hurt" can be used if someone believes a problem is not their fault. Also, "I'm sorry" should not be forced or required, but only encouraged, since it must be genuine to be believed and effective. If a member is not ready to ask or offer forgiveness, merely accept this reality and express the hope that time will heal the hurt.

    To close, the whole family stands in a circle, takes two steps toward the middle of the circle and has a "family hug".

    TREAT: Try "eating your words". Take Alphabits cereal, spell out any angry feelings you might have had and "eat" them to get rid of them.

    Related Scripture if desired: Matthew 18:21-35

    This activity is simplified from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    1. What are the feelings that I find most difficult to express to my spouse?
    (For example: inadequacy, jealousy, fear, anger, failure, praise, tenderness, etc.) Why?

    2. Is one of us more at ease expressing emotions while the other is more the "thinker"? How does this affect our communication?

    3. When I feel really angry with my partner, I usually...

    4. I really like it when my spouse shows his/her love for me by...

    5. I would really like it if my spouse would also...


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights

    Map of the world or a globe to pass around.
    Web of Life Game supplies: ball of string or yarn, make 8 nature cards with string to go around necks for: sun, plants, food, water, soil, air, animals, and people

    Light a candle and sing a song like "This Land is Your Land".

    The earth we live on is like a giant living creature. Sometimes this is called an eco-system and it means that everything in, on, and above the earth is connected. When one part of the system changes or is hurt this affects other parts. Even parts of the environment that are not generally thought of as alive like the sun, water, or soil impact each other and all life.

    "Web of Life" - Instructions:
    Form a circle. Place one nature card on each player (Smaller families can give more than one card to a person). The leader is a spider in the middle of the circle and will weave a magical web, "The web of life". Tell the story of ecology below. Weave or pass string from sun to plant to food to water, etc, when indicated by the story.

    All things on earth, living and non-living, in some way depend on each other. This relationship is called the balance of nature. It is the web of life.
    All life depends upon the sun.
    Green plants need the sun to make their own food,
    Water, soil and air are also necessary.
    Some animals eat plants,
    Humans depend upon plants and animals for food.
    humans must be aware of this balance of nature and do their best to protect and preserve it.

    Finally, recite the Earth Pledge. The family could make a collage of beautiful nature scenes and write the Earth Pledge on it. This could be hung in a prominent place as a reminder and recited periodically.

    The Earth Pledge
    I promise to care for all the earth
    Because of its life and awesome worth.
    For land and water and plants and air,
    For animals and people everywhere.
    For all that lives, and all that gives
    Me LIFE, I give my word.

    Serve vegetables and dip or fresh fruit to represent produce from the earth.

    Related Scripture if desired: Romans 12:5-6

    This activity is simplified from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.



    For Couples

    Instructions: Each spouse rates the following on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being the least enjoyable and 10 being the most enjoyable kind of fun or recreation you do as a couple.

    _____/_____ Visiting/hosting friends

    _____/_____ Dining out together

    _____/_____ Traveling together

    _____/_____ Going to parties

    _____/_____ Participating in sports together

    _____/_____ Watching sports together

    _____/_____ Romantic evenings together

    _____/_____ Playing games at home

    _____/_____ Sharing jokes or humor

    _____/_____ Plays, concerts, movies

    _____/_____ Surprising/Being surprised

    _____/_____ Working together to fix things up

    _____/_____ Joint service/civic/faith projects

    _____/_____ Other _________________________________________

    When finished, talk about each area in terms of similar or different ratings and how you feel about your answers.
    Do you want to make any changes, either as an individual and as a couple?
    How can you be more playful and have fun without "working at it"?
    Is there anything you really like to do together that doesn't cost much or any money?



    •Recall a humorous incident or story in your relationship that made you laugh.

    •Recall a time in your relationship when you were surprised by your partner.

    •Remember a time when the two of you did something unusual or crazy.


    For Families
    Adapted from Just Family Nights and a nice complement to tax season

    Dollar bill (or play money)
    Match, plus a safe way to burn the money
    Poker chips (or similar counters such as buttons or pebbles)
    Tripoli (or similar game that can use poker chips) or Monopoly
    Paper and crayons for younger children

    Leader dramatically burns a dollar bill (or play money if you can't bring yourself to destroy the real thing)

    NOTE TO LEADER: This session works best when there is an element of surprise, so announce the theme simply as "Money". In this way, the experience itself is the teacher. For example, "Let's play a game using pretend money, since most of us don't have money to burn. People sometimes use poker chips as a substitute for money in games, so that's how we'll do it."

    Prepare to play a poker chip game like Tripoli or a cash game like Monopoly.
    If the family is not familiar with this game or a similar one, teach the game first and perhaps do a sample round under the normal rules.

    Once everyone understands the game, the leader distributes the poker chips or play money making sure to allot them unevenly. For example, the youngest child may get the most and there should be other obvious inequalities.

    It is unlikely that the game will get very far before a reaction from those who were dealt less chips or money erupts. At this point the leader stops the game to discuss the feelings of the different players.
    •Why is it unfair that you didn't get as many chips/money?
    •How do those of you who got more feel?
    •Did you do anything special to deserve more chips/money?
    •Who wants to keep playing?

    The leader then explains that unfortunately this unfair distribution of money really happens in the real world. In fact, 6% of the world's population (the equivalent of the population of the U.S.A.) uses 40% of the world's resources. Many people are born poor and didn't do anything to deserve it, but have a hard time getting money because they don't have good health, a good education, or have a family that helps them succeed.

    1. The family could continue to discuss why inequities of wealth exist in our country and in our world. Do we know anyone who has fewer material goods than us? Is there a discreet way to help someone who currently has a legitimate need for more money? Should our family consider tithing our time and resources?
    2. When discussion has run its course, the original game of Tripoli or Monopoly could be restarted with everyone getting an equal amount of chips/money.

    Anything green or round like coins would be fitting, perhaps green cookies or thin mints.

    Related Scripture if desired: Matthew 19:23-26

    This activity is simplified from Just Family Nights. Susan Vogt, ed. Brethren Press, Elgin, IL: 1994.
    See the original book of 60 family nights for age adaptations, expanded reading, activities, songs, recipes, and background.


    For Couples

    It is particularly nice to feel loved and cared for by one special person. It is an unrealistic expectation, however, to think that one partner can ‘just naturally know’ what helps the other feel especially loved. It is a romantic myth that “If you really loved me, you would know what I want.”

    Individually complete the following sentence:
    I feel loved when ____________________ OR, I appreciate it when _______________________

    List at least five actions or behaviors your spouse has done that helped you feel loved or that you especially appreciated.

    When both of you have completed your responses, take turns sharing with your spouse.

    Adapted from: Marriage Enrichment Resources by the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLM), www.nacflm.org Used with permission